First @StateDept Postpones Annual Retirement Ceremony, Then Postpones Annual Awards Ceremony

Posted: 2:19 am ET

 

Each fall, usually in November, and tentatively scheduled for Friday, November 17, 2017 this year, the Secretary of State hosts the annual retirement ceremony. Invitations usually go out out in the first half of October to State Department Civil Service and Foreign Service employees who retires between September 1 the year before and August 31 of the current year. Employees who retire after August 31, 2017 for instance will be invited to next year’s ceremony (fall of 2018).

On October 23, State/HR sent out an email announcement informing recipients that the Secretary’s Annual Retirement Ceremony has been changed. “Regrettably, the tentative date for the Retirement Ceremony has been preempted by another event.” This year’s ceremony is now reportedly scheduled for Thursday, December 7. The invitations to the honorees were supposedly mailed out the first week of November.

The State Department’s public schedule for November 17 is listed as follows:

9:45 a.m. Secretary Tillerson delivers remarks at the Ministerial on Trade, Security, and Governance in Africa, at the Department of State.

11:30 a.m. Secretary Tillerson participates in a Family Photo, at the Department of State.

4:30 p.m. Secretary Tillerson meets with President Donald Trump, at the White House.

We don’t know which of the above pre-empted the event last week or if somebody else had some private ceremony at the State Department venue. We’re told this has to be done during the day to avoid overtime payment.  In any case, we’ll have to watch out what happens on December 7 and see if they can round up enough people for Tillerson’s first retirement ceremony.

On November 14, a notification also went out from State/HR that the 2017 Department Annual Awards Ceremony has been rescheduled:

The Secretary’s travel demands will make it impossible for him to preside over the Department Awards ceremony scheduled tentatively for November 21, 2017. We expect to reschedule the event for a date in the near future. The Secretary would like very much to present these awards himself and asks that we try to find a date and time that fits with his calendar. We will be in touch as soon as we have any information on the plans for the ceremony.

A howler arrived in our inbox:

The Secretary postponed State’s annual awards ceremony on short notice. Individuals understand the priority of world affairs and how a crisis takes precedence over a ceremony, however, that is precisely when another senior officer conducts the ceremony. That’s great the Secretary himself wants to be there, but the show must go on. Many (if not most) individuals receiving these prestigious awards had family traveling to DC to be present. The awards are a big deal and it is Thanksgiving weekend. Now all the travel plans are wasted, money is lost (who buys non-refundable tickets?) and Thanksgiving reunions are ruined.

It’s almost like the Secretary and his top team seek out every opportunity to destroy morale amongst his staff.

Perhaps Mr. Tillerson isn’t used to thinking about these things. But see, if he has counsel at the top besides the denizens of the “God Pod”, that individual would have anticipated this. The awardees are not just coming from next door, or within driving distance, and their families do not live in Washington, D.C. Anyone with a slight interest in the Foreign Service should know that. It is understandable that the Secretary has lots of responsibilities, but State could have used his deputy, or if he, too, is traveling, they could certainly use “P” to do this on Mr. Tillerson’s behalf. Of course, if advisors at the top are as blind as the secretary, this is what you get, which only alienates the building more.

Should be interesting to see where Secretary Tillerson’s travel take him this Thanksgiving week.

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Tillerson’s Aides Brief Senate Staffers on @StateDept Reorganization With a Chockful of Buzz Words

Posted: 11:41 am PST

 

On November 7, we wrote that a State Department top official did a presentation to ranking officials of the agency concerning the ongoing redesign (see @StateDept Redesign Briefing Presents Five “Guiding Beliefs” and Five “Key Outcomes” #OMG).

It looks like that presentation document was expanded and was used to brief the aides at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on November 9. Politico’s Nahal Toosi posted the briefing document here crammed with corporate buzz phrases.  Oh, where do we start? Maybe the corporate B.S. generator helpfully pointed out to us on social media?

Slide 2 is labeled Overview of the DOS/USAID Redesign / Culture Change. It asks “What is Redesign?” and has the four bullet points with lots of words, but short on the how. Or the why for that matter. What kind of cultural change does this redesign envision? What is the current organizational culture, what’s wrong with it, and why is this new culture better? We don’t know because it doesn’t say on the overview. We do know that the SFRC bosses were not satisfied with the briefing given to the staffers.

So when they talked about “Focusing on strengthening the State Department’s and USAID’s future capacity” how did they align that with hiring below attrition with a graying workforce, a third of them eligible to retire by 2020?  (see @StateDept/USAID Staffing Cut and Attrition: A Look at Real Numbers and Projected Attrition).

A third point says “Equipping us to be the U.S. government’s agency leader in foreign policy and development over the next forty years.”

Lordy, who wrote these slides? Also folks, why forty years?  That’ll be 2057, what’s the significance there? Or are they talking forty years in biblical time as in Numbers 32:13“The Lord’s anger burned against Israel and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in his sight was gone.”

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@StateDept Building Ops Employees Asked to Pick Top Ten Core Values From a 99 Values Menu

Posted: 3:21 am ET

 

This is OBO according to the state.gov:

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

OBO’s mission is to provide safe, secure and functional facilities that represent the U.S. government to the host nation and support our staff in the achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives. These facilities should represent American values and the best in American architecture, design, engineering, technology, sustainability, art, culture and construction execution.

OBO folks recently received the following information:

Transformational change is underway within OBO and your involvement is integral to this process. In preparation for the Department’s larger Redesign effort, the OBO Transformation Team is hosting discussions around organizational culture and values to help chart the future OBO course. An organization’s core values are fixed and timeless, inform customers and third parties alike about “who we are, what we believe in and what drives us” and are touchpoints for decision-making. They are not best practices or necessarily related to the mission; they are the north star(s) that remain constant regardless of the operating environment. You will shortly be sent a survey and asked to select those top ten core values that you hold and that you think are representative of OBO’s values. During the discussion on November 14, we will talk about these values and work toward a common understanding about what OBO might need to do, to change or to prioritize in order to make our values present every day in our organization.

We understand that the recipients were instructed to respond to a two-point survey via surveymonkey but the response is reportedly needed by noon on Tuesday, November 14. The first point in the screen grab above says “Core values are those “essential ingredients” that support the OBO vision, shape our culture and reflect what we value. Which ten choices from the list below represent your idea of OBO’s core values?” and one option to click on the “ok” button. If you’re not okay with that description on “core values”, well, there are no other choices.

The second survey point asks recipients to “Choose ten values” by selecting the respective radio buttons from a list of ninety-nine “values” arranged alphabetically from “Accomplishment” to “Wellness.”

Well, this is kinda perplexing. OBO is not/not a stand alone entity but is part of the State Department; it shares its organizational norms and culture, why does it need its very own OBO “fixed and timeless” core values?  How many OBO employees are part of this OBO Transformation Team?

Some folks are just curious if this is going to be another word cloud exercise.

If you’re in the middle of this “transformational change” does this exercise and hosted discussion helpful in making you adjust/deal/understand the changes unfolding in your organization? Are they useful in addressing employee concerns and anxieties? We’re also interested to know — is this exercise being replicated in every geographic and functional bureau of the State Department? How many “transformation teams” are there? What are their team compositions and roles?

In related news, we understand that a Republican nominee who ran and lost in the 2012 U.S. House of Representatives elections will soon be joining OBO as a Schedule C appointee. He will reportedly be supporting directly the bureau director; a permanent OBO director has yet to be named but there is an ambassador leading the bureau in an acting capacity. More OBO news in a bit.

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@StateDept Redesign Briefing Presents Five “Guiding Beliefs” and Five “Key Outcomes” #OMG

Posted: 2:24 am ET
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The State Department is still in the midst of its redesign exercise. We understand that a couple of weeks ago, a State Department top official did a redesign presentation to ranking officials of the agency. This must be part of Phase 3 of the redesign efforts to communicate the plan to the employees and external stakeholders. This phase also includes the implementation of “functional projects” that reportedly supports the “Comprehensive Redesign” (we don’t yet know what are those projects, but we’ve been hearing about purported “quick wins”). Further, this phase reportedly includes the “development of an atmosphere of culture change.” We’re still waiting to learn how they’re gonna do cultural change in Foggy Bottom.

(See Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable)

The presentation notes first that “Diplomacy and development will become even more important as global power dynamics continue to change.” (Wait — a newbie at the State Department told diplomats and development professionals with decades of experience that diplomacy and development will become even more important even as the agency is planning to slash its funding and staff?).

Did anyone laugh out loud during the presentation?

The presentation then explains the State Department and USAID’s “Guiding Beliefs” for the Tillerson redesign.  There are reportedly five of these beliefs:

➨ 1. We will each need to communicate directly and continually engage with our domestic and global stakeholders regarding our purposes, missions, ambitions, and achievements.

➨ 2. We will each need the agility to adopt state-of-the-art information technologies and to adapt to rapidly changing technological advancements that are driving broader changes in the world.

➨ 3. We will each need to modernize our workforce systems (including recruitment, training, and performance management to maintain passionate, top-quality, and more agile workforces).

➨ 4. Our respective decision-making will need to take advantage of advancements in knowledge management and in data collection, analytics, and visualization.

➨ 5. We will need to focus on our respective comparative advantages as we address threats and leverage opportunities posed by the growing power and influence of emerging states, non-state actors, civil society, the private sector, and individuals.

All nice words. And 1) they can start communicating with their employees starting with S, the chief sponsor of this change; 2) money, money, money ; 3) uh-oh; 4) darnit, darnit, science! and 5) boo!

The second presentation point notes that “global competition for economic, financial, natural, human, and technological resources, and changes in society and social structures (brought on by migration, climate change, large scale unemployment, social isolation, wealth disparities, and similar shifts) will create opportunities for inter- and intra-state conflict and/or cooperation.”

No. Kidding. Is this Foggy Bottom’s kindergarten class?

And third, that “growing reliance on data and technology will increase vulnerabilities at the micro and macro levels, requiring new approaches to risk mitigation at all levels of government and among all elements of society both in the United States and abroad.”

Who. Knew?

The presentation also talks about the five key outcomes namely:

  • effective and strategic global leadership
  • maximizing the impact of foreign assistance
  • mission-driven, high performing, agile workforce
  • nimble and data informed decision making
  • mission enabling, world-class infrastructure support

Given that the State Department has now communicated the U.S. intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, our most favorite part in this list of outcomes gotta be “data informed decision making.”

The presentation also talks about “tranche goals” and “five outcome goals” — oops! Don’t look now! We’ve gone mighty dizzy.

But holy moly guacamole! Which intern should be sent to the Republic of Nambia for this BS?

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EEOC Affirms No Reprisal in Quick Termination of a Foreign Affairs Officer

Posted: 12:33 am ET
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Via eeoc.gov

At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant worked as a Foreign Affairs Officer, GS-11 at the Agency’s Office of Intelligence and Threat Analysis, Bureau of Diplomatic Security facility in Rosslyn, Virginia. Complainant was terminated during her two-year probationary period, effective November 25, 2013. Management indicated that after a very good start, Complainant’s work product deteriorated in that her written articles required substantial editing. Complainant was advised to take basic writing and analysis courses to help correct her deficiencies. Complainant maintained that management’s comments about her writing were unsupported as the complaints she received were arbitrary and style comments and not comments regarding substance. On June 13, 2013, Complainant and a Special Agent had a disagreement when Complainant made a comment about Special Agents and he took offense. He yelled and cursed at Complainant while she was at her desk. Complainant indicated that she felt threatened because he had his gun on his waist. Following this argument, the Special Agent reported the incident to management. Management informed the Special Agent that his conduct was not acceptable. Management also spoke with Complainant, and the two apologized to each other. Therefore, management believed that the incident was over. Two days later, the Special Agent was made the team leader of Complainant’s unit. Complainant believed that, based on the verbal assault, his promotion was in retaliation against her. Complainant also maintained that after she filed her EEO complaint management engaged in other conduct which ultimately led to her termination.

On August 16, 2013, Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that the Agency discriminated against her on the basis of reprisal for prior protected EEO activity under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when:

1. On July 15, 2013, her portfolio responsibilities for Turkey were removed;
2. On July 31 and August 5, 2013, her requests for training were denied;
3. On August 1, 2013, she received a negative memorandum that served as her mid-year review regarding her performance;
4. On August 6, 2013, she was reassigned to the DS/Public Affairs Office;
5. On August 8, 2013, management informed her that her SCI security clearance and partial building access would be removed; and
6. Effective November 25, 2013, she was terminated from Employment.

At the conclusion of the investigation, the Agency provided Complainant with a copy of the report of investigation and notice of her right to request a hearing before an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Administrative Judge. When Complainant did not request a hearing within the time frame provided in 29 C.F.R. § 1614.108(f), the Agency issued a final decision pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.110(b). The decision concluded that Complainant failed to prove that the Agency subjected her to reprisal as alleged.

Specifically, the Agency determined that even if it assumed Complainant established a prima facie case of reprisal, there were legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions.

Accordingly, the Agency’s FAD which found that Complainant did not demonstrate that she was subjected to reprisal is AFFIRMED.
[…]
To show pretext, Complainant argued that reprisal was a factor in Management’s action in Claim 1 because her portfolio was changed after she informed management of her intent to file an EEO complaint regarding the Special Agent incident. With respect to Claims 2 – 6, Complainant asserted that the manner in which she was treated with regard to training, her performance review, her detail, her security clearance and her termination was in retaliation for her initiation of an EEO complaint. The FAD found that Complainant’s subjective beliefs, without any evidence to support those beliefs were not evidence of pretext. No evidence in the record supported Complainant’s claim that any of the described actions were taken due to her EEO activity. According to the Agency, the record strongly supported management’s account of the events. Therefore, the Agency found that Complainant could not meet her burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that management’s reasons were untrue or unworthy of credence.

CONTENTIONS ON APPEAL

On appeal, Complainant reiterates her contention that two days after she reported the verbal assault by the Special Agent, he became her team leader, which she believes was undoubtedly an act of retaliation. Complainant maintains that on July 1, 2013, she reported to management that her working conditions were intolerable and that she was contacting the EEO office. Complainant also indicates that after she filed her complaint all adverse performance related issues were documented. On July 15, 2013, she maintains that she received an Unacceptable Performance Memorandum, indicating that her writing style was too academic. Complainant contends that she was held to a higher standard than needed and that in order to keep her job she needed only to get a fully successful rating, not an outstanding. Complainant also asserts that she should have been placed on a PIP before she was removed. Finally, Complainant maintained that work was late only when the Agency had not properly staffed the unit and she was there in the unit alone doing the work of three people. Complainant again asserts that in retaliation for her EEO complaint she was terminated on November 25, 2013.

In response, the Agency requests that the FAD be affirmed as Complainant did not show that the Agency erred in finding that she did not prove her case.

ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS

Based on a thorough review of the record and the contentions on appeal, including those not specifically addressed herein, we find that even if we assume arguendo that Complainant established a prima facie case of reprisal, the Agency articulated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions as addressed above. To show pretext, Complainant, among other things, maintained that the comments made about her written work product were arbitrary and concerned matters of style. She maintained that after she filed her EEO complaint criticisms about her work product increased. We find however, that the record supports the Agency’s position that Complainant was repeatedly spoken to regarding her work product and she did not conform to management’s concerns.

With respect to Complainant’s arguments on appeal, we find that other than her conclusory statements she has not provided persuasive evidence that she was subjected to reprisal. Complainant asserts that the Special Agent that assaulted her verbally was promoted to the team leader in order to retaliate against her. Notwithstanding the lack of evidence to support this contention, we note that the record indicates that the Special Agent never took the position. Complainant also maintained that if there were real concerns about her work that she should have been placed on a PIP. We find however that the Agency adequately explained that probationary employees do not have access to the PIP program. Finally, Complainant also maintained that due to a lack of staff on several occasions she was left alone and during those times she needed to request extensions for her work. While this may be true, we find that Complainant did not show how this was related to her claim of reprisal. Complainant acknowledged that she was left alone because her coworkers got off work at an earlier time than she did. With regard to Complainant’s termination during her probationary period, the Commission has long held that an Agency has broad discretion in terminating an employee during their probationary period as long as it is not for discriminatory reasons. In the instant case, we find no persuasive evidence of a discriminatory motivation.

CONCLUSION

Accordingly, the Agency’s FAD which found that Complainant did not demonstrate that she was subjected to reprisal is AFFIRMED.

Read in full here.

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Why bureaucrats matter in the fight to preserve the rule of law

By Melissa Lane
Ms. Lane is the Class of 1943 professor of politics and director of the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. She is the author of a number of books, including Eco-Republic (2011/2012) and The Birth of Politics (2015), and has appeared often on the ‘In Our Time’ radio broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Via Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivatives

Socrates, while serving on the Athenian Council, sought to prevent it from making an illegal decision. Martin Luther, when a council convened by the Emperor Charles V in 1521 told him to recant, is said to have declared: ‘Here I stand; I can do no other.’ The United States’ attorney general Elliot Richardson and the deputy attorney general William D Ruckelshaus both chose to resign in 1973 rather than obey President Richard Nixon’s order to fire the special prosecutor investigating Watergate. More recently, the acting attorney general Sally Yates was fired after she announced that the US Department of Justice would not cooperate in enforcing President Donald Trump’s executive order against Muslim immigrants. They all said no. Each of them, for reasons of principle, opposed an order from a higher authority (or sought to prevent its issuance). They are exceptional figures, in extraordinary circumstances. Yet most of the time, the rule of law is more mundane: it depends on officials carrying out their ordinary duties within the purposes of the offices they hold, and on citizens obeying them. That is to say, the rule of law relies upon obedience by bureaucrats, and obedience of bureaucrats – but crucially, within the established norms of the state.

The ancient Greeks made no sharp distinction between political rulers and bureaucratic officials. They considered anyone in a position of constitutional authority as the holder of an office. The ancient Greek world did not have a modern bureaucracy but they did confront the question of respect for norms of office and of obedience to office-holders. Plato addresses these questions, in both the Republic and the Laws, in relation to the danger of usurpation of democracy by a budding tyrant.

Of course, Plato was no democrat. But he did recognise the value of liberty – most explicitly in the Laws, where he posited liberty, wisdom and friendship as the three values that ought to guide the work of government. Plato wanted to balance liberty with what we would call the rule of law. For him, that included not only obedience to the law, but also obedience to the officials who have to carry it out. In the Republic’s portrait of democracy (in some ways a caricature, to be sure), he warns against drinking liberty unmixed with obedience, likening it to wine unmixed with water – a serious social solecism for the ancient Greeks. Doing so, he thinks, can lead to a deterioration of the norms of political office. Too much liberty might lead to the point that a city ‘insults those who obey the rulers as willing slaves and good-for-nothings, and praises and honours, both in public and in private, rulers who behave like subjects and subjects who behave like rulers’ (translation by G.M.A. Grube revised by C.D.C. Reeve, in John M. Cooper (ed.) Plato. Complete Works (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997)).

To insult ‘those who obey the rulers’ by calling them ‘willing slaves’ is to reject the value of a norm of obedience to state office-holders. No constitution – no organisation of power into authority – can long subsist if the authority of its officials routinely merits defiance. The resister might be heroic and her actions could sometimes be necessary, but she must be an exceptional rather than an everyday case. Officials who defy illegitimate orders must logically always be the exceptions to a general rule of obeying orders, lest the very meaning of their defiance evaporate. Any conception of liberty, or any practice of government, that rejects the need for obedience to the norms of office, will destroy itself. So Plato reaffirms in the Laws that ‘complete freedom (eleutheria) from all rulers (archōn) is infinitely worse than submitting to a moderate degree of control’.

The statebuilding efforts of medieval and early modern Europe are great and complex endeavours, with their own rich histories. In relation to the rule of law and role of the bureaucrats, we can think of their papal chanceries, state treasuries and imperial ministries as a kind of foundation on which modern reformers and rulers and revolutionaries alike would build liberalism and the rule of law. These bureaucracies constituted the tools of power for rulers. In providing the impartial officials, rule of law procedures and institutional forms of equality, bureaucracy constituted the mechanisms to vouchsafe people’s rights. Liberal reformers used these very mechanisms to try to extend wider rights and liberties to more and more groups.

Max Weber, the influential early 20th-century German sociologist, feared that bureaucracy would be part of the over-rationalisation that he described as a looming ‘iron cage’. He feared it would grow too powerful, choking off meaning, value and political responsibility in its means-ends instrumental rationality. If Weber had lived a few years longer (he died at only 56, in 1920) and had been asked to speak about the crisis of liberalism in the young Weimar Republic, I think he would have expressed the concern (already present in his last writings) that no sufficiently charismatic and powerful politicians would emerge who would be able to bring the bureaucracy to heel. He saw bureaucracy as a major threat to modern life. The fear that the bureaucracy itself was vulnerable to tyrannical usurpation would not likely have crossed his mind.

Today, the US faces the threat of what we can think of as the political iron cage breaking down – possibly from executive leadership ignorant or contemptuous of the purposes of the organisation. Though obviously it has accelerated, the threat is not entirely new with the Trump administration. When president in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan pioneered the nomination of cabinet secretaries committed to abolishing or drastically curtailing the very agencies they were named to head. President George W Bush named agency administrators such as Michael D Brown, who lacked knowledge of his area of responsibility, as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Brown’s eventual resignation in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina betokened not heroic defiance but a reaction to the storm of criticism for his lackadaisical response to the crisis. These public officials were not committed to the basic purposes and processes of the bureaucracies they were appointed to lead or serve.

To be sure, we must not be blind to the ways in which the machinery of state will remain a major resource for parties and politicians who seek to control and to advance their own ends. My point is that, while aspects of this machinery might remain intact, challenges to evidence-based reasoning, fair procedure and impartial officialdom – to the whole apparatus of bureaucratic office and the rule of law – threaten to corrode it. Whether in the long run the machinery itself can withstand this corrosion is an open question.

There is an irony here. Weber’s fear was that the iron cage of rationalising modernity, including bureaucracy, would stifle liberty, meaning and ultimate value, squeezing out responsible, charismatic politicians. Yet today, faced with the menace of charismatic, reckless politicians, what Weber feared as an iron cage appears to us to be the building block of some of history’s most hard-won rights. Plato looks more prescient: long ago he warned of both the charismatic but irresponsible politicians, and the insouciant, irresponsible officials who serve them, who risk eroding the norms of office on which the values of the rule of law and liberty rest.Aeon counter – do not remove

Melissa Lane

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

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Tillerson Updates @StateDept Employees on Reorganization, He’s Got One Glaring Problem

Posted: 2:07 am ET
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On Wednesday, Secretary Tillerson sent out a message to State Department employees with an update on the progress of his redesign effort. The message talks about modernizing an outdated IT system, flexible work programs, and increasing “the level of EFMs.”

“This week we are submitting to the Office of Management and Budget an Agency Reform Plan with specific recommendations for improving our respective organizations. For example, we know a priority for us is to modernize an outdated IT system, so we’re taking major steps toward putting our systems on the cloud. We know you have families, so we’re also exploring options for flexible work programs. In addition, Eligible Family Members are an important part of supporting efficient delivery on our mission, so we’re making provisions in some cases to increase the level of EFMs. Our working groups have also identified areas where we can improve our human resource functions, empower leadership at all levels, and improve management support services to reduce redundancies while ensuring you have the tools you need to do your job.”

Wait, does Tillerson  really mean “increase the level of EFMs” … because this should be interesting for single folks?  Or does he mean the level of EFM “jobs” but avoids actually mentioning the magic word?

It’s vague enough, it makes one both perplexed and excited!

His message also talks about “ambitious proposals” with “a minimum deliverable of 10 percent ($5B) in efficiencies relative to current (FY2017) spending over the next five years.” And get this — “an aspirational general interest target of up to 20 percent ($10B).” Wow! What does that look like? We’re definitely interested.

“Our redesign plan seeks to align State and USAID foreign assistance and policy strategies, capabilities, and resources to execute foreign policy priorities more effectively. It includes seven ambitious proposals with investments that will generate a minimum deliverable of 10 percent ($5B) in efficiencies relative to current (FY2017) spending over the next five years, with an aspirational general interest target of up to 20 percent ($10B). These efficiencies enabled by modernized systems and work processes will adjust the current historically high spending level by reducing duplications and unnecessary overhead for State, USAID, and other agencies. Adopting these recommendations that you expressed your hope for in the listening sessions will allow us to better focus on our core policy priorities and programs. It will also lay the groundwork for additional efficiencies and improvements in later years.”

This past week, we’ve seen the Senate Appropriations bill that includes mandatory notifications and consultations with the subcommittee on the proposed changes at the State Department. That same bill also requires the Government Accountability Office and Department of State and USAID Inspectors General (IG) to review the redesign plans (see Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Approves FY2018 State & Foreign Ops Appropriations Bill). On September 12, the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote to OMB specifically asking OMB Director Mick Mulvaney for a briefing on the role he intend to play in the redesign at the State Department.  We have these in mind when Secretary Tillerson says this in his message to employees:

“In the weeks ahead, we will continue to develop and advance other recommendations. Some will require Congressional approval or a change in law, some will require OMB support, but there are a number of actions we can begin to undertake internally. Some examples that we’ve already started on include integrating certain Special Envoy offices into the bureau structures and efforts to increase diversity in our workforce. You should expect to see results unveiled on a rolling basis. Once a solution is ready to go, we are going to put it to work as soon as we can. We will continue to ask for input and consult with you and other stakeholders – including Congress – as we move forward.”

Also this:

“Your participation is essential to a successful redesign. As the process continues there will be more opportunities to give your input and be a part of the various execution teams as we move toward implementation. We will be asking for volunteers through the portal, and I encourage you to sign up to add your skills and talents to our effort.”

Tillerson has a problem, and it goes to the heart of his redesign efforts.  Since employee participation is “essential” to a successful redesign, it is particularly troubling that he has not directly engaged with his employees during the redesign effort in the most transparent way. He gave a couple of speeches but took no questions.  The Sounding Board, the Secretary’s Employee Forum was shut down in August 31. Employees can still submit ideas reportedly through the “redesign portal” but the secretary of state who is the chief sponsor of this reorganization has not given employees the opportunity to ask him questions.

Folks are talking – in the cafeteria, in water coolers, in rest rooms, in online forums, etc. etc. but they have not had the opportunity for an honest, two-way conversation about this reorganization with Secretary Tillerson . His paid consultants forgot to advise him that “if honest conversation stays private, the public conversation will be unreal, and ultimately discouraging.”

That’s from management consultant, Peter Block which seems appropriate as the State Department prepares for the implementation phase of its redesign. Here’s one more:

“There will be no forward movement until the staff in turn has the opportunity to challenge management. Providing public space for this to happen is the first step in shifting a culture, in implementing a change.”

 

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What’s That Sound? That’s AFSA Drilling a Hole In Search of Its Missing Backbone

Posted: 2:14 pm PT
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Via Politico: Barbara Stephenson, the president of the American Foreign Service Association, the diplomats’ union: “America’s leadership is being challenged by adversaries who would like to see us fail. We cannot let that happen,” she said. “With all the threats facing our nation, we need a properly resourced and staffed Foreign Service more than ever, and we need them where they do the most good—posted abroad, delivering for the American people.”

AFSA on Twitter:

–Nine in 10 Americans support strong American global leadership. (1/5)
— That’s unthinkable without a strong/professional FS deployed around the world protecting/defending our people, interests & values. (2/5)
— America’s leadership is being challenged by adversaries who would like to see us fail. We cannot let that happen. (3/5)
— With all the threats facing our nation, we need a properly resourced and staffed Foreign Service more than ever (4/5)
— and we need them where they do the most good—posted abroad, delivering for the American people. (5/5)

AFSA added “At this point, President Trump’s ambassadorial nominees have taken an average of 42 days to be confirmed. (GW Bush 62 days, Obama 101 days.)”

Heard anything yet from Secretary Tillerson? From Deputy Secretary Sullivan?

O.K.

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Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable

Posted: 3:01 pm PT
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On August 8, while Secretary Tillerson remains on travel (seen in Thailand with Foreign Minister Pramudwinai in Bangkok), Deputy Secretary John Sullivan had a town hall with employees at the State Department.

According to Politico, the State Department’s No. 2 official assured staffers Tuesday that plans to restructure the department would take their concerns into full account, comparing the coming changes to U.S. military reforms following the Vietnam War. The report notes that his “reference to post-Vietnam reforms in the U.S. military suggests major changes are afoot; the military saw major changes in organization, doctrine, personnel policy, equipment and training.”

While it certainly is a good development that employees were able to hear directly from the deputy secretary and he did take and answer questions, we remain convinced that Secretary Tillerson himself needs to do the town hall, not his deputy. Secretary Tillerson often talks about accountability as one of his three core values, one that he asked his employees to adopt.

Well, morale is bad. And S is accountable. Folks need to see him and hear him address their concerns.

Had Secretary Tillerson and his inner circle expended the necessary time and energy to get to know the building and its people during the transition before jumping into reorganization, they would not be battling bad press every day six months into Tillerson’s tenure.

Politico also reported that toward the end of the town hall, Mr. Sullivan “urge State staffers not to believe everything they read in the press about what is happening in the agency.” 

Okay! So that’s funny.

This was going to be our one post on the town hall, but we saw that Mr. Sullivan had now given an on-the-record briefing to members of the press regarding his town hall. So, we will do a separate post dedicated to Mr. Sullivan’s town hall.  While still working on that, we have three points to make quickly.

One, the press did not invent these stories. State Department folks in and out of service are talking to media outlets. We’ve never seen these many sources talking to the press in all the years that we’ve covered Foggy Bottom. The press reports these stories, of course, some with less restraint than others, and some without context; that’s just a couple of the complaints we’re heard. Is this healthy for an organization that is already undergoing stresses brought about by the re-organization? Obviously not. And Foggy Bottom is practically a rumor machine these days.  But there’s a reason for that.  If folks are talking, that’s because management is not doing a good job communicating with the employees. Heck, we have more folks reading this blog this year, and it’s not because we’re irresistibly entertaining.

(Hello to our 500,000th visitor this year! We’re glad to see you here!)

Two, there’s a lot that the Tillerson Front Office is doing that we don’t understand. And that’s okay, we’re not privy to their thinking or their plans. And since the State Department’s Public Affairs shop has put us on its shit list (you know, for laughing out loud during April Fools’), there’s no way to get an official word from the Building.  If we’re using our own resources without official comments from Foggy Bottom to help explain whatever it is they’re doing, just know that we did not ask them to put us on their shit list. That was perfectly voluntary on their part.

So anyway, when people — who have dedicated their lives to this organization for years, who have gone through other transitions and survived, who have served under Democratic and Republican administrations and supported the policies of those administrations when they were in office (as they’ve affirmed when they were appointed to these jobs) — when those folks throw up their arms in frustration and distress, and they, too, do not understand, then we have to sit up and pay attention. It doesn’t help that Secretary Tillerson and his immediate people, when they do talk uses descriptions of what they’re doing as if they’re in an alternate universe. “No preconceived notions,” “employee-led reorganization” “no chaos” — we do not need to be a genius to recognize that those are talking points intended to shape their preferred narrative.

Three, the notion that Secretary Tillerson and his people arrived at Foggy Bottom where everything is broken, and they are there to fix it is kinda funny.  They did not know what they did not know, but that did not deter them from doing stuff, which broke more stuff. Perhaps the most substantial reinvention of the State Department in modern times, about systems, and work, and people, happened during Colin Powell’s tenure. That happened because 1) Powell was wise enough to recognize the value of the career corps; and 2) he brought in people who were professionals, who knew how to work with people, and — let’s just say this out loud — people who did not have atrocious manners.

When Secretary Powell showed up in Foggy Bottom in January 2001, he told State Department employees, “I am not coming in just to be the foreign policy adviser to the President,… I’m coming in as the leader and the manager of this Department.”  The building and its people followed Secretary Powell’s lead because they could see that his actions were aligned with his words. And of course, Secretary Powell did not start his tenure by treating career people with 30-year service like trash by giving them 48 hours to clear out their desks.

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A Woman Reported to Diplomatic Security That She Was Raped and Stalked by a DS Agent, So What Happened?

Posted: 2:26 am ET
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We recently received information from an individual who asserted that she was raped and stalked by a supervisory Diplomatic Security agent assigned to one of Diplomatic Security’s eight field locations in the United States.  She said that was interviewed by Diplomatic Security’s  Office of Special Investigations (DS/DO/OSI) in November 2014. She also said that she provided a Victim Impact Statement to DS/OSI in December 2015. The investigation reportedly concluded in February 2016 with no disciplinary action. She informed us that during one telephonic conversations with a Supervisory Special Agent, she felt pressured to say that “I was pleased with the DoS handling of this case.” She presumed that the call was recorded and refused to say it.  She cited another case that was reported around the same time her case was investigated in 2014.  She believed that there were multiple police reports for the employee involving different women for similar complaints.

We’ve asked the Bureau of Diplomatic Security for comments about this case, and whether this was reported to the Office of Inspector General. To-date, we have not received an acknowledgment to our inquiry nor a response to our questions despite ample time to do so.

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On the subject of sexual assaults, on July 27, 2017, the State Department issued a new Foreign Affairs Manual subchapter 3 FAM 1750 on sexual assaults involving personnel and facilities in the United States. (For sexual assault involving chief-of-mission personnel and facilities outside of the United States see 3 FAM 1710).

3 FAM 1750:  “… The Department of State is determined to do all it can to prevent sexual assault from being committed by, or against, its personnel and it is committed to effectively and sensitively responding to personnel who have been sexually assaulted, ensuring that they are treated with care and respect.  The policies and procedures in this section define the Department’s goals of effectively preventing and addressing sexual assaults; the actions it will take in response to allegations of sexual assault; and the approach it will use in holding those Department personnel who commit sexual assault accountable for their actions.  The language used in this FAM, by necessity, must be technical, comport with and relate to relevant laws, and be administratively sound.  That said, the legal terminology, including the term “victim,” contained herein should not eclipse the compassion and urgency that underlie the Department’s commitment to this issue.”

The new regs notes that “sexual assaults that occur within the United States generally fall under the jurisdiction of the State or locality where the assault occurred.  Personnel who are victims of sexual assault are not under any obligation to report the assault to the Department.”

This new policy applies to:

(1)  All Department employees in the United States;

(2)  Persons under personal-services contracts (PSCs) or personal-services agreements (PSAs) in the United States;

(3)  Other individuals, such as third-party contractors, student volunteers (interns) and nonemployee fellows, and other personnel (e.g., subcontractors) in the United States who provide services to the State Department when the allegation involves conduct that occurs on duty, or is associated with the individual’s position within the Department; and

(4)  Any sexual assault that occurs at any Department facility within the United States.

The victims described above may also reach out to:

(a)  Diplomatic Security’s Office of Special Investigations (DS/DO/OSI) via telephone at 571-345-3146 or via email at DS-OSIDutyAgent@state.gov.  The DS/DO/OSI duty agents are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week;

(b)  Employee Consultation Services (ECS) by email:  MEDECS@state.gov or by telephone at 703-812-2257; and

(c)  A sexual-assault crisis center.

The regs says that “personnel who are victims of sexual assault are not/not under any obligation to report the assault to the Department.”  The Department, however, “strongly encourages” anyone who knows or suspects or is aware of a sexual assault covered by 3 FAM 1750 to immediately report allegations of sexual assault to:

(1)  DS/DO/OSI via email DS-OSIDutyAgent@state.gov or via phone through the DS Command Center at 571-345-3146; or

(2)  S/OCR or via phone at 202-647-9295 (WHY?)

(3)  MED personnel will not share protected health information except in accordance with the Notice of Privacy Practices or with the written consent of the patient.  Individuals may obtain a copy of the MED Notice of Privacy Practices from the health unit or MED intranet page.

(4) Except as required by law, non-MED personnel will only disclose information about sexual assaults to other Department officers and employees on a need-to-know basis, including to the Office of Inspector General (OIG) in accordance with 22 U.S.C. 3929, and to other Federal and local agencies, in accordance with the Privacy Act.

3 FAM 1750 says that Department personnel detailed to another agency may reach out to the Washington, DC-based Bureau of Medical Services (MED) duty officer at 202-262-9013 or through the Operations Center at 202-647-1512 for medical guidance, and to DS/DO/OSI for law enforcement guidance.

A few thoughts on this:

#1.  We understand the caveats on information sharing with medical, and non-medical personnel included in this subchapter  but we don’t think this is enough to assuage the privacy concerns of victims.

#2. DOD has restricted (confidential) and unrestricted reporting for victims. That means the adult sexual assault victim can access healthcare, advocacy services, and legal services without triggering notification to command or law enforcement (restricted). Under Unrestricted Reporting, both the command and law enforcement are notified. Even then, fewer than 1 in 5 victims openly reported their sexual assault. 3,678 service members reported the incident to law enforcement, out of a total 20,000 survivors.

#3. S/OCR handles equal employment opportunity issues including sexual harassment, why should sexual assault victims report sexual assault or sexual assault allegations there? 3 FAM 1711.2 defines sexual assault as any type of sexual contact that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.It also says that sexual assault is a form of sexual harassment. Sexual assault is a crime, it cannot be resolved through mediation, grievance, or the EEO processes. Also does anyone know how many people at S/OCR are trained to actually handle sexual assault cases?

The U.S. Marines publication make the distinction between sexual harassment and sexual assault here (PDF). It defines sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination that involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature. It defines sexual assault as intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, threats, intimidation, abuse of authority or when a victim cannot or does not consent.  And this one is important, “A current or previous dating relationship by itself or the manner of dress of the person involved with the accused in the sexual conduct at issue shall not constitute consent.”  

The U.S. Coast Guard says that the real distinction between sexual harassment and sexual assault is sexual harassment’s connection to the victim’s employment and/or work performance, which is why sexual harassment is a civil rights issue. It points out that sexual assault is a crime against another person. However, unlike sexual harassment, it has nothing to do with their employment and/or work performance, it is a criminal assault, of a sexual nature, against another person.

The State Department guidance does not/not make such distinctions.

#4.  States all address the crime of sexual assault, with some adding specific categories of victims, defenses, and penalties. See more here: http://statelaws.findlaw.com/criminal-laws/sexual-assault.html.

RAINN also has a search tool for independent sexual assault service providers, including National Sexual Assault Hotline affiliate organizations and other local providers here.

 

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