How to Report Waste, Fraud, and Abuse of Authority to the House Foreign Affairs Committee

 

As you already know, the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) has oversight relating to the management and operations of the State Department.
HFAC has an online reporting tool for whistleblowers.  Federal employees may report waste, fraud, and abuse of authority to HFAC. The website says “You may remain anonymous if you choose. However, if you provide a way to contact you, it will make us better able to follow up on your report.” 
Below via HFAC:

Whistleblowers are entitled to protection under federal law. If you are a covered federal employee or applicant for federal employment you have the right to confidentially and, if you choose, anonymously report waste, fraud, or abuse of authority, without facing retribution or loss of your position.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee Democratic office is committed to rooting out mismanagement, wrongdoing, and abuse of authority in the federal government and to protecting government employees, applicants, and contractors who bring such information to light.

If you know of wrongdoing and wish to report it, you can use this secure online form. You are not limited to reporting to your agency’s ombudsman or inspector general.  You may report wrongdoing to the Committee and still be entitled to whistleblower protection. Please contact us if you have questions about whether whistleblower protections apply to you.

A few things to know about reporting wrongdoing at your agency:

    • It can make a difference.  Often, employees who are aware of wrongdoing choose not to come forward because they believe nothing will change.  This Committee and other Congressional offices are committed to stopping waste, fraud, and abuse.  If you have something to report, this Office will review your submission and take appropriate action.
    • The law allows you to report any information to Congress. Our staff can assist you in understanding what protections exist for federal employees who report wrongdoing.
    • Many whistleblowers come forward.  Federal employees who report problems at their agencies play an invaluable role in making sure our government works the way it should.  Not every whistleblower story ends up on the front page of the paper, but the information whistleblowers provide is constantly helping Congress fulfill its oversight role.
Click here to submit your report.

Billy Goat on Grass Field by Pixabay

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@StateDept Fails in FSGB Defense Over Coersive (Unlawful) Curtailment

 

The FSGB found that the State Department committed in prohibited personnel practice (“PPP”) violation of 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(4) against an FS employee stationed overseas when it coerced his curtailment from post. The Board also found that the curtailment in this case failed to comply with 3 FAM 2443.2. This case is horrifying in how carelessly embassy officials can chuck anyone out the airlock.
Also see FSGB: When Voluntary Curtailment Is NOT Truly Voluntary
According to the FSGB ROP, the Department questioned “whether 5 U.S.C § 2302 applies to Foreign Service Officers, because Title 5 of the U. S. Code applies only to Civil Service Employees.15 However, it concludes that, assuming the provision applies, there is no evidence to support the finding of a violation”.
The Board’s decision says “we address the Department’s question of whether Foreign Service Officers are protected against prohibited personnel practices. […] Under Section 105 (b)(2)(B)(4) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, all FS members are free from any personnel practice prohibited by 5 U.S.C. § 2302. […] we find that PPP protections apply to Foreign Service Officers under Section 105 of the FSA.
The oldest executive agency then argued before the Grievance Board that the Senior Regional Security Officer’s alleged statement that “all this would go away,” while putting his hand on the investigatory file, “could have merely meant the file itself would be gone or that the Ambassador’s determination to involuntarily curtail him would be obviated by his decision to voluntarily curtail.”
And get this, the Department concludes that the “vague statement” by the SRSO was not deceitful.”
The Department also argued that grievant has “failed to meet his burden to show that the SRSO knew that his statement was untrue or that he acted with an intent to mislead grievant.”
Oh, lordy!
Then covering all its bases — “even assuming that the statement was deceitful, the Department contends that Section 2302(b)(4) only applies to “competition for employment,” which is limited to hiring and promotions and does not apply to the retention of employment.14  Although curtailment is an assignment, it is not a process of hiring or promotion.”
The Department agreed that “it committed a harmless error of its curtailment procedures.”
It sure wasn’t “harmless” on the affected employee and his family, was it?
The FSGB did not buy it.

It is clear that the Board’s analysis found that the SRSO engaged in deceit. The statute prohibits “deceit or willful obstruction.” While obstruction is defined as willful, the drafters did not see a need to use the adjective with deceit. Deceit is willful; it is not negligent or inadvertent.

The Board includes “deceit” in the footnotes:

26 Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed, 2014) defines deceit: “1. The act of intentionally leading someone to believe something that is not true; an act designed to deceive or trick. 2. A false statement of fact made by a person knowingly or recklessly (i.e., not caring whether it is true or false) with the intent that someone else will act on it. 3. A tort arising from a false representation made knowingly or recklessly with the intent that another person should detrimentally rely on it.”

On curtailments, the Department notes that “under 3 FAM 2443.2(a), the Chief of Mission (COM) has discretion to determine curtailment when it would be in the best interest of the post. While the COM must follow procedures, there is no evidentiary standard, and the curtailment procedures do not require the same rigor as the disciplinary process.”
The Department then makes a shocking or maybe not really a shocking admission:

“..there were serious allegations against grievant, and the COM was not required to determine whether they were true, but only if the curtailment was in the best interests of the post.”

Wait, what? So anyone could make a claim, state an allegation, anyone could start a rumor, and COM is not required to determine whether they were true? How bonkers is that?
Via Record of Proceedings
FSGB Case No. 2019030 | September 29, 2021

The Department’s MFR seeks reconsideration of the Order on two grounds. The first ground for reconsideration is that the Department claims that the Board committed “clear error” by failing to find evidence of two essential elements of a prohibited personnel practice (“PPP”), in violation of 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(4), despite finding that the Department committed a PPP. The missing elements, according to the Department, are – a willful or deliberate deception and a competition for a position. The second basis for reconsideration is that the Department claims that the Board committed “clear error” by conflating the curtailment and discipline procedures when it failed to remand to the Department the question of whether it would have curtailed grievant absent the procedural error by failing to follow the Department’s curtailment regulations.

Grievant, an FS-02 Security Engineering Officer (“SEO”), served as the Deputy Officer in Charge (“DOIC”) of the Department’s Engineering Services Office (“ESO”) at the U.S. Embassy in REDACTED (“post”) from August 2016 to January 18, 2017. His rater was the Officer-in-Charge (“OIC”), and his reviewer was the Senior Regional Security Officer (“SRSO”).

The incident that led to a preliminary investigation of the grievant and, subsequently, an in-depth investigation of him by the Office of Civil Rights (“S/OCR”), is an alleged threat made by grievant at the end of December 2016. On January 10, 2017,1 a supervisee claimed that grievant had made an implied threat of physical violence to him, and the SRSO assigned the Assistant Regional Security Officer (“the ARSO”) to investigate and notified the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (“DS”), Office of Special Investigation (“DS/DO/OSI”). On January 12, post management briefed the Ambassador, who decided to exercise his authority under 16 STATE 27226 to curtail grievant from post. Later that day, January 12, the SRSO, grievant’s reviewing officer, held a meeting with grievant, two Human Resource Officers, and grievant’s rater and told grievant that the Ambassador had decided that he would be involuntarily curtailed if he did not voluntarily curtail, and if he voluntarily curtailed, “all of this,” gesturing to the investigative file, “would go away and it would be as if he had been curtailed for family reasons.”2

But the investigation did not, in fact, “go away.”

On January 14, the ARSO issued an RSO Report, which the Accountability and Suitability Board (“A&SB”), which included the SRSO, discussed that day with the Ambassador. The case was referred to the Department of State’s Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) that same day. On January 16, the Management Counselor prepared a Decision Memorandum (“Decision Memo”) in Support of No-Fault Curtailment, which was sent to the front office. A day later, on January 17, grievant met with the HRO at post and formally accepted a “voluntary curtailment,” and management approved his request that day. On January 18, Grievant curtailed without having been advised of the ARSO’s report or of the referrals to S/OCR and to
DS/DO/OSI.
[…]
GTM/ER proposed to suspend grievant on a single charge of Improper Comments, with three specifications. The Deciding Official (“DO”) sustained only two of these specifications, both dealing with alleged threats. With the dismissal of the third specification, all potential EEO violations were dismissed. The DO reduced the penalty from a two-day to a one-day suspension.”5

Grievant filed an agency-level grievance, alleging that the one-day suspension violated regulations; that his 2017 Employee Evaluation Report (“EER”) contained a falsely prejudicial statement based on the charge; that the RSO Report contained a falsely prejudicial statement that he had been counseled for anger management; that his curtailment was coerced and unlawful under 12 STATE 27212 (“Curtailment of Employee Based on Conduct or Disciplinary Issues”); and that his assignment to a non-supervisory, overcomplement6 position was based on a PPP. The grievance was denied by the Department.

Board found that the Department committed a PPP, in violation of 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(4). […]Moreover, even without the PPP finding, the Board found that the curtailment failed to comply with 3 FAM 2443.2, and the Department does not challenge that finding.

[…]
By inducing grievant’s “voluntary curtailment” on an unenforceable assurance, post avoided going through the procedural safeguards of 3 FAM 2443.2, which apply to voluntary curtailments that are initiated at the request of the COM. What the Department does not acknowledge is that the SRSO (importantly, grievant’s reviewing official, the official who had directed the ARSO’s investigation and notified DS/DO/OSI and a member of the A&SB advising the Ambassador) told grievant that if he voluntarily curtailed, it would be “as if he curtailed for family reasons.” That would mean a curtailment under 3 FAM 2443.1 with no prospect of discipline.

The Board denied in full the Department’s Second Motion for Reconsideration and issued six other orders related to back pay, reconstituted Selection Boards, promotion, and interest on back pay.
The Board ordered remedies for violations of 3 FAM 2443.2 and 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(4) , remedies for falsely prejudicial language in Grievant’s EER; attorney’s fees request is held in abeyance until final resolution of the remedies.
The remedies ordered include:

2. The Department shall pay grievant “an amount equal to all, or any part of the pay, allowances, or differentials [including overtime], as applicable, which [he] normally would have earned or received” during the period of 18 ½ months of the remainder of his posting at post, had he not been improperly curtailed, less any amounts he earned through other employment during that period, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 5596(b)(1)(A)(i), 5 C.F.R. 550, Subpart H..

4. The Department shall hold four reconstituted Selection Boards for the years when grievant’s OPF contained the uncorrected 2017 EER.

5. If grievant is promoted by any of the reconstituted SBs, the promotion should beretroactive to the date a promotion would have been implemented by the SB for which it was reconstituted. The Department shall pay the wage differential from the date of any retroactive promotion.

6. The Department shall pay interest on any back pay awards due under this order.

The conduct of these government representatives at this post should be labeled “notoriously disgraceful conduct”. And the State Department should be shamed for defending this type of unacceptable behavior.  Oh, please don’t tell us these people all got promoted!
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Note: Depending on the browser you’re using, the FSGB cases may not be available to read online; each record may need to be downloaded to be accessible. With Firefox browser, however, you may select “open with Firefox” if you want to read the case file, or save the file to your computer. Please use the search button here to locate specific FSGB records.

 

 

What’s happening at CA/OCS? Besides People Calling In to Yell at Staffers Working the Phones

 

Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) in the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs is responsible for the protection and safety of U.S. citizens traveling and residing abroad. OCS has three offices: the Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management (OCS/ACS), the Office of Children’s Issues (OCS/CI), and the Office of Legal Affairs (OCS/L).

Billy Goat on Grass Field by Pixabay

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FSGB: “Service Need Differential” Posts Get a Bad Recruitment Ad

The fundraising campaign is closer to its goal today than yesterday, but it’s not quite there yet. We are grateful to the more than 450 donors who have supported our annual fundraising to-date. We will not run an indefinite campaign, just a few weeks out of the year.  Help us meet our goal so we can get back to our regular blogging programming without plugging our fundraising. If you are able to help, please pitch in at GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27. Thanks – DS

According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, a ‘Service Need Differential’ [SND] is an allowance of 15 percent of base salary for employees serving in Historically-Difficult-to-Staff (HDS) posts with an at least 20 percent hardship differential and a standard two-year tour of duty, when the employee agrees to serve for a third year.  Some of the “at least 20 percent” hardship differential posts includes Albania, Azerbaijan, Egypt, a couple posts in China, and more. Djibouti, Ghana, Haiti, Afghanistan, CAR, Cuba, DRC, and some posts in India are in the 25 percent category. Afghanistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Chad, Iraq, Pakistan are some of the 35 percent hardship posts. The hardship considered includes physical and social isolation; political violence, terrorism and harassment; medical and hospital availability; environmental conditions and sanitation; crime; climate; housing and infrastructure to name some. See more here.
The grievance case below concerns SND payments to a DS agent who served at one of these “historically-difficult-to-staff” posts.  Instead of the State Department just acknowledging that a mistake had been made in this case, the State Department made the argument that the grievant, “as a mid-level employee with several years of experience and facing his third overseas assignment” should have known better to ask the right questions. Whoa!  The agency is saying, it’s his fault, hey?
Footnote indicates that “with respect to the AO’s [Assignments Officer] indication of the candidate’s SND election in the assignment panel notes, the record indicates that the assignment panel notes did in fact include a comment that grievant’s SND decision was “pending.” However, grievant denies that he made that (or any) SND-related election, or that he communicated to his AO that he had elected to defer his decision until after arrival at post.”
The FSGB decided that the grievance appeal was sustained. The Department was ordered to reimburse grievant for SND he would have received from the date of his arrival at post, consistent with the provisions of the Back Pay Act. 5 U.S. Code § 5596.
Via FSGB Case No. 2020-050

HELD – The Foreign Service Grievance Board found that grievant met his burden to show that the Department failed to implement its Standard Operating Procedure SOP B-22 in the process of assigning him to a Service Need Differential (SND) post, a procedural error that resulted in harmful denial to him of SND payments for a period of time. The grievance was sustained.

CASE SUMMARY – Grievant accepted a handshake for assignment to an SND-designated post. He argued that in the process of assigning him to post, the Department failed to implement any of the “Assignment Procedures” specified in its relevant Standard Operating Procedure, SOP B-22. These included provisions that the Assignment Officer should contact grievant by email, provide information regarding the SND Program (including a specified “standard disclosure” covering SND options and the consequences of each), request the employee to indicate which SND option he/she elects, and relay that election to the assignment panel. The SOP advises that an assignment to an SND-designated post should not be made unless the foregoing provisions are carried out. The assignment panel, on the basis of notes of unspecified origin to the effect that grievant’s SND decision was “pending,” assigned him for a two-year tour-of-duty which made him ineligible for SND unless he should later request, and be granted, an extension of his tour to three years’ duration.

The agency denied that grievant had carried his burden of proving that his Assignment Officer (AO) failed to implement SOP B-22, but that even if the AO had failed to do so, grievant as an experienced, mid-level bidder, should not be absolved of any and all responsibility to understand the SND assignment procedures as they applied to him and to seek clarification and/or assistance if he were confused or concerned about the process. Further, the Department argued that in the agency-level grievance, it had provided to grievant (albeit on different grounds, which are abandoned in the instant grievance appeal), all relief to which he is entitled.

The Board found factually that the provisions of SOP B-22 had not been implemented by the Department in grievant’s case. The Board found further that the language of the Assignment Procedures of SOP B-22 is particularly directive, going as far as to advise that assignment to an SND post should not be made unless its stipulated provisions have been carried out. On the issue of harm, the Board found that the agency’s failure to implement the SOP constituted a significant procedural error which denied grievant the opportunity to receive information, counseling, and assistance stipulated in the policy before the panel assigned him to a two-year non-SND assignment which record evidence established he did not elect. The Board ordered payment of SND from the date of grievant’s arrival at post.

Background:

Grievant is an FP-03 Special Agent with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (“DS”) who has worked for the Department since 2012. He is currently serving as an Assistant Regional Security Officer (“ARSO”) at post, his third assignment. The matters grieved in the instant action concern the manner of grievant’s assignment to, and extension at, post, as they impacted his receipt of SND payments.
[…]
On January 23, 2019, the Department issued cable , captioned “(PII) TMONE – ASSIGNMENT NOTIFICATION – PERSONNEL ASSIGNMENT ([grievant’s name and social security number redacted] FP-03, 2501, Special Agent) (“TM-1,” “the assignment cable”).3 Among other information pertaining to the position, the TM-1 noted that the assignment was for a 24-month tour with an estimated arrival date at post of August 2019. The cable contained the names of grievant’s Assignment/Training Officer [sic], Assignment Technician, and CDO as points of contact. The TM-1 did not identify the post as an SND- designated post, nor did it provide any information on the SND Program or how to participate therein.
[…]
After being informed, in a general manner, of the SND program by colleagues, grievant reached out on November 25, 2019, to post’s human resources officer (“HRO”) by email and requested “procedures to extend for one year and activate SND[.]”5
[…]
After repeated attempts by grievant to obtain a decision on his extension request and SND, on June 11, 2020, the Department finally issued a cable approving his extension for a third year at post. The extension approval cable noted that his election of a 36-month tour made him eligible for SND but did not provide further specifics such as what the effective date of SND eligibility was. Grievant subsequently was informed that the SND payments would commence as of the date of the extension approval cable, i.e., June 11, 2020.

On July 20, 2020, grievant filed an agency-level grievance, arguing that the Department’s failure to follow its pre-assignment SOP procedures for SND posts, compounded by subsequent delays in processing his extension request, improperly deprived him of a financial benefit (i.e., timely commencement of SND payments). As a remedy, he sought retroactive payment of SND (with interest) starting from the date of his arrival at post.

On September 24, 2020, the Department issued an agency-level decision, granting the grievance in part, and denying it in part. The deciding official (“DO”) stated that she was not persuaded that grievant had shown that the Department had failed to follow SOP B-22, finding further that grievant should not be “absolve[d] … of any and all responsibility regarding initiation of the SND process.” Grievance Appeal Submission (“Appeal”), Attachment 2 at 5. She therefore denied that part of the grievance. However, while noting grievant’s delay of over six months in initiating his extension request, the deciding official found that the Department had also let the request sit “idly” for three months. She consequently granted partial relief, directing that SND should be paid effective March 10, 2020, the date on which post issued its extension request cable.

State Department’s Oh, Dear/Even If Argument

The Department argues that record evidence shows that when the panel initially assigned grievant to post, the notes on which it relied stated that grievant’s SND decision was pending. This is consistent with the portion of the SOP “which outlines the employee’s right to delay his/her SND decision until after their [sic] arrival at post . . . .” Response at 5. According to the Department, grievant has failed to offer any evidence that the AO did not discuss the SND program with him or inform him about the elections. The absence of any comments in the “Remarks” section of his TM-1 assignment cable (which grievant advances as evidence that he was not properly advised of SND options before he was assigned to post) is not dispositive of a failure by the AO or CDO to implement the SOP.

The Department also argues that even if the AO and/or CDO had failed to implement the SOP (which the Department denies), “[grievant] should not be absolved of any and all responsibility regarding the initiation of his own SND process, especially if he sought to enjoy the benefit of receiving payments as soon as he arrived at post.”13

Also, if you’re going to a post no one wants to go, you should know more than your Assignments Officer?

The Department further argues that grievant, as a mid-level employee with several years of experience and facing his third overseas assignment, should have recognized that he was bidding on an SND post, and if he had any questions about SND bidding procedures, he knew or should have known to contact his AO and/or CDO for guidance and assistance. However, we find the details of the SND program are sufficiently arcane that the Department felt the need to emphasize the special responsibilities of human resources personnel. The language of SOP B-22, which grievant could not have been expected to know as it is not a familiar Department FAM or FAH provision, is quite particular. It bears repeating that the principal provisions of the Assignment Process fall to the AO and that the language is uniformly directive, not permissive. The SOP directs the AO to contact the employee by email, and one practical consequence of this requirement is to ensure that there be an official record of the communication. The SOP states that the purpose of the email is to explain the SND program, and to ask that he/she make an election among the various SND options (including no-SND and deferral of decision). The AO is further directed to “use the following standard disclosure when contacting the employee.” Half a page of stipulated language explaining the three SND options, the implications of each, and the FAM authority follow. As noted supra, the SOP states in bold typeface that “No assignment for an SND-designated post should be made” unless the AO has advised the employee of the SND options and their implications. The totality of the Assignment Procedures language bespeaks a particular intent that it be implemented to ensure that bidders such as grievant, regardless of experience, be informed uniformly of the program and its details. Accordingly, we find that grievant should not have been expected to be aware of the requirements of the SND program but should have been able to rely on the unique expertise of his AO and the requirements assigned to the AO to provide the information needed to make a choice before his assignment began. Having considered all of the resources to which the Department has pointed, we find that absent the AO’s briefing and support mandated by the SOP, the information in the other Department sources would not necessarily be sufficient, and might even have been meaningless, without the provision of that required context.

The Grievance Board Finds “Harm”

The Department argues that grievant has failed to prove harm resulting from any violation of the SOP, as he has not presented any evidence that he wished to elect, or would have elected, a three-year SND tour. Our considered view is that the language of the Assignment Procedures of SOP B-22 is of a particular character that bespeaks a concern that the procedures be implemented. That is understandable, inasmuch as the SND Program exists to incentivize candidates to bid on historically difficult-to-staff posts, and the SOP seems obviously formulated to ensure that candidates make informed choices among the unique options of the SND Program within a transparent process. In the instant case, the Department’s failure to implement the particularly directive provisions of the SOP denied grievant an opportunity that he would have otherwise had, and which the SOP seems clearly crafted to provide, to be contacted in writing (email), counseled on the basis of prescribed standard language regarding the SND options and implications, and to have his election solicited and transmitted to the panel as the basis for assignment; failing the foregoing, the SOP says that an assignment should not be made. The harm then to grievant was the lost opportunity.

We would like to make an observation about this finding. In finding that failure to implement the SOP deprived grievant of the opportunity to elect a three-year SND tour under the SOP Assignment Procedures, we do not seek to supply an answer to the counterfactual- hypothetical question of whether grievant would have elected a three-year tour if the AO had in fact implemented the SOP. We acknowledge that there is no contemporaneous evidence that he would have made that election prior to his arrival at post. Nonetheless, the harm we find is not that grievant was denied SND payments in accord with an inferred election to be paneled for three years, but rather that he was denied a procedural opportunity pointedly stipulated in the SOP when the AO failed to inform him about the SND Program and solicit his election after he accepted the handshake and prior to paneling him to a two-year non-SND tour. We see no alternative remedy to compensate grievant for this harm other than to order SND to be paid from the date of grievant’s arrival at post.

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Inbox: Warrior Culture, Militarization, and Diplomatic Security

We received the following from Sender A, writing anonymously I would happily critique or call out any regional or functional bureau in the Department of State under my true name, but I do not believe it would be safe to do the same in this case.” The writer says he/she had over 30 years of experience with the State Department, with almost all overseas service at differential posts. Service in Washington, D.C.  included top ranking positions at more than one bureau. –D

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Warrior Culture, Militarization, and Diplomatic Security
I’m puzzled that, with all the attention being paid to policing and law enforcement reform in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, no one seems to have instigated any scrutiny of the policies and practices of Diplomatic Security.  Watching the heavily armed, camouflage clad federal officers operating in Portland certainly demonstrated that federal law enforcement in general has become significantly militarized; the same is true, in my experience of DS.  Given the shortfall in consular revenue and the likely upcoming budget impact of coronavirus, it seems to me that a genuine cost/benefit analysis of Diplomatic Security and its practices is overdue.  My hope is to start this discussion.
As a retiree and former Chief of Mission, I’ve observed with dismay for many years the militarization of diplomatic security and the proliferation of “security theater” by which I mean practices don’t actually make us safer but make the practitioners feel more powerful.  At my COM post, with a new secure chancery in a low threat country, the entry procedure for visitors (including mine) was so onerous that most contacts were unwilling to meet with me in my office.  They invariably preferred to meet in restaurants, which tells you something about the real level of threat.  Despite three years of trying, I was unable to make much of a dent in this.  I also saw a lot of security theater during tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The emphasis on weapons (the heavier the better), vehicles, and security technology often outweighed any reliance on cultural or political understanding and mostly served to keep very expensive American employees hunkered down inside US facilities.
The militarization of the State Department, while most acute in DS, is not confined thereto.  It reached a peak during the GW Bush presidency, when Sec. Rice constantly exhorted us to become “expeditionary.”  While the warrior diplomat model seems to have waned, especially in light of the limited and often short-lived results of the Provincial Reconstruction Team experiment (gains accomplished at great risk and high cost in lives), the warrior ethos remains strong in DS.
Consider also the 20-story DS headquarters building in Rosslyn, that was built and kitted out mostly with antiterrorism funds (or so I was told).  What really goes on there that is not duplicative of work already done elsewhere, (e.g., intelligence analysis)?  At my last security clearance update, I was surprised to learn from the investigator (who worked out of his car!) that DS contracts out virtually 100% of clearance investigations, including new hires.  
Then there’s the new training center, far away from Washington, about 60 miles SW of Richmond Virginia.  I am baffled that the Department’s leadership allowed DS to slip the net and take their training so far away, apparently with no oversight.  How will DS employees be integrated into the work of the Department when they have no interaction with the rest of us in training.  Who will even know what is contained in DS curriculum.  Why isn’t DS training at least structurally under the Foreign Service Institute, as is the training for (as far as I know) every other speciality.
I’m old enough to remember DS before its employees became law enforcement special agents, when they focused on soft skills, contacts, and interpersonal skills to solve problems, and when DS employees occasionally served tours outside DS which enhanced their understanding of other functions of the mission.  I don’t miss everything about the “olden days,” especially not the derelict buildings that housed many of our missions, but I do believe that something was lost.  Setbacks and blast resistant buildings aside, I’m not convinced that we’re that much safer with current security practice.
I acknowledge the many sacrifices that DS agents and other employees have made to keep Embassies, consulates and employees safe, and I’ve respected and liked many DS agents with whom I’ve worked.  This letter is about leadership, risk management, which we claim we practice, and most of all about organizational culture.  I’ve read with interest a number of past Diplopundit items about DS’s response to sexual harassment, sexual assault, and complaints from female agents about the work environment and believe that many of these problems have their roots in warrior culture as well.   

Foreign Service Posts Celebrate #PrideMonth #LGBTI #HappyPride2020

 

Inbox: I spent several years as a DS special agent and observed systemic racism at the federal level

 

Via email received from Foggy Bottom:
I spent several years as a DS special agent and observed systemic racism even at the federal level.  While most of my time was spent overseas doing meaningful work alongside some amazing people, the first three months of my long initial training was at the federal law enforcement training center in Brunswick, GA– coincidentally the very same town in which Ahmaud Arbery was killed.  It was eye opening, and often not in a positive way.
That massive academy in southeast Georgia trains everyone from DS and the Secret Service and U.S. Marshals to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Bureau of Prisons.  It was all too common to hear horribly racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, and homophobic comments while in the chow hall, the gym, or most egregiously at the campus bar.  If this was how some new recruits viewed the world, how could anyone expect them to behave impartially and fairly.  Fairly young at the time with no prior experience in weapons or tactics, the advice given to me when I started was “keep your mouth closed and your head down.” That I did, although looking back, shamefully so.
When I finished training and made it to the field office, I thought I had escaped those types of officers.  In DS, the average new hire had at least a Masters degree and fluency in a foreign language, not to mention had to pass rigorous interviews and assessments.  Months into my first assignment we had a presentation from a Diplomat in Residence (DIR) – who spoke to our field office about the next generation of employees.  She spoke of the Foreign Service reputation as “too male, Yale, and pale” and gave a fantastic rundown of diversity recruitment programs.
The following day while eating lunch after a law enforcement operation with about a half dozen new agents who had just graduated from BSAC, one expressed his disgust at the Ambassador’s remarks and more notably, referred to this Senior Foreign Service DIR as a “Black b****.”  That wasn’t even the worst of what he said.  I was horrified.  His beliefs – spoken in a public restaurant in a major city – were blatantly racist and more troublesome, represented what I believed to be dangerous when held by someone carrying a gun and a badge.  I walked out of the restaurant alone mid-meal shaking from what I heard but didn’t have the strength to confront him.  I was ashamed that someone like that wore the same badge and swore the same oath in front of the Secretary of State as me.
I ultimately left law enforcement several years later for a better fit for my family.  I worked with overwhelmingly good people, many whom I remain friends with and who have expressed their own horror and condemnation over these last few days.  The best agents I know do not hesitate to confront the small cadre of morally repugnant bigots.  These are the men and women who I still look up to, despite no longer working in their field.
An old friend sent me screenshots of a conversation that took place [recently] in a private Facebook group for DS agents.  One agent called into question the troubling experiences of her African-American DS colleague, writing in rejection to his clearly-firsthand accounts “that’s strange because I’ve been in law enforcement for 20 years and never heard any of that from any of my sisters and brothers in blue.”  When pressed on her naiveté, she doubled down with something so gross that I won’t even quote here but ask any of the hundreds of DS agents present on that social media page.  She was appropriately shunned and humiliated by her bosses and peers for showing her true colors and will face the consequences, but anyone in law enforcement who pretends that systemic racism doesn’t exist should do the responsible thing and hand in your gun and badge now before your beliefs affect your actions.  If colleagues had stood up to officers like Derek Chauvin, maybe it would have prevented a death.
Meanwhile, also in Foggy Bottom:

Continue reading

Post of the Month: In a Time of Pandemic, a U.S. Embassy Launches a Witch Hunt

“Your previous article has really stirred things up …. a lot of retaliation against who people think might have written you…which is now a large group of suspects…”

Related posts:

Is @StateDept Actively Discouraging US Embassies From Requesting Mandatory Evacuations For Staff? #CentralAsia? #Worldwide? March 23, 2020

DGHR Notifies HR Employees of Measures to Manage COVID-19 in SA-1  

 

We learned from two sources that State Department DGHR Carol Perez sent out an email notice to HR Employees on “Measures to Manage COVID-19 in SA-1 ” on the evening of March 24.  SA-1 is a State Department annex office located on E Street in Columbia Plaza A & B that includes multiple agency tenants like the HR (now GTM) bureau and the Bureau of Administration.

“GTM was notified today of a presumptive positive case of COVID-19 in SA-1.  The person has been out of the office since the close of business Thursday, March 19.”

The email went on to describe the measures the State Department has undertaken including the A bureau cordoning off “space on the floor where the person works for disinfection.” The DGHR’s email notified HR employees that MED and the Bureau of Administration supervised a vendor conducting “a deliberate and professional disinfection of those spaces.”
“The disinfected spaces will be safe for re-occupation tomorrow, March 25,” the DGHR writes. Her email also told employees that “Areas contiguous to those spaces (hallways, elevators) continue to be safe for use” and that  GTM (HR) “remains operational, and the rest of SA-1 remains open as a worksite. ”
The notice ends with a reminder that employees should be aware of CDC guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19 and says that “ Employees should stay home and not come to work if they feel sick or have symptoms of illness.” Employees are also reminded if they are at work to “wash their hands frequently and employ social distancing” and that “Directorates and Offices should not engage in group events of 10 or more individuals at this time.”
DGHR’s closing line said “The health and safety of our employees remains our top priority.  Please take care of yourselves and each other.”
One source told us that the DGHR message was apparently sent only to those in the HR (GTM) bureau. Sender A asks:

“If someone working in HR was exposed, then, ostensibly, does that not mean that anyone else working in that same building (SA-1) might also have been exposed irrespective of whether or not they work for HR? Or that customers of that HR officer who visited SA-1 might’ve been? I mean, really? Are we REALLY stove piping info like this?!”

A second source told us that this was the approach the Consular Affairs bureau took in communicating about the positive case of COVID-19 in SA-17
We don’t know if the presumptive positive case is with HR or the A bureau, but if it’s the latter, it would be weird for HR employees to be notified but not the A bureau, hey?
The top official who says “The health and safety of our employees remains our top priority” can do better communicating information about COVID-19 cases within the State Department. We were informed that there is still “no central info on cases department-wide or measures individual embassies are taking to share best practices or information on gravity of situation.” Note that MED said it is tracking cases. See COVID-19 Tracker: State Department and Foreign Service Posts (March 25 Update).
We’re having a hard time understanding that. This is an agency that takes notes about everything but is unable to track this virus in domestic offices and overseas posts?
These are scary times, no doubt but remember the human. I often do yard work these days to keep my anxiety down or I won’t get anything done.  Different folks deal with anxieties, uncertainties and fears differently, except that it gets more difficult to do absent relevant needed information. Do folks really want to see rumors flying around the annexes? As often said, rumors express and gratify the emotional needs of the community. It occupies the space where that need is not meet, and particularly when there is deficient communication.
Valued employees deserve more.

 

@StateDept’s New “One Team” Award For Employees Includes $10,000 Prize, Certificate, and a Glass Statuette

 

We recently posted about the new ‘One Team’ four-day pilot course at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute (See Foreign Service Institute Rolls Out Pompeo’s Pursuit – A ‘One Team’ Four-Day Pilot Course For “Everyone”). Early last month, DGHR Carol Perez also tweeted about the new ‘One Team’ Award (sorry, the nominations were due on August 29).
In mid-July, the ‘One Team’ Award was official added to the Foreign Affairs Manual. The FAM says that “This annual award recognizes a current employee or contractor who exemplifies the Departments Professional Ethos, a true champion of American diplomacy and servant of the American people.”
This award is open to employees who are in the Foreign Service, the Civil Service, locally employed staff, non-Senate confirmed political appointees, and contractors. It carries a prize money of $10,000 USD, a certificate signed by the Secretary of State, and a glass statuette. Please note that if the awardee is a contractor, he/she will only receive a certificate and letter of recognition both signed by the Secretary of State and provided to the individual’s company, but no monetary award.
A lucky runner-up will also receive a letter from the Secretary of State. The Department employee recipient will have that letter placed into his/her personnel file.
The Foreign Affairs Manual says that the winning nominee will be chosen by a Selection Committee chaired by the Deputy Secretary or his/her representative and including three other committee members designated by the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources (Director General). We’ve asked DGHR Carol Perez for the names of the Selection Committee members. Easy question, nothing sensitive, it’s a Pompeo project, and we’ve used please and thanks, you guys. But some folks, you know, pretend we’re just a ghost in space, and can’t hear us. That’s all right, somebody please use a ghost whisperer and let us know who gets the $10K and the glass statuette this year. 

3 FAM 4832.25 The One Team Award

3 FAM 4832.25-1 Description

(CT:PER-952; 07-18-2019)
(State Department)
(Applies to Foreign Service, Civil Service, Locally Employed Staff, non-Senate confirmed political appointees, and Contractors)

a. This annual award recognizes a current employee or contractor who exemplifies the Departments Professional Ethos, a true champion of American diplomacy and servant of the American people. The award recognizes an employee or contractor whose exceptional professionalism, integrity, responsibility and leadership enabled results-producing teamwork, particularly in the face of challenging circumstances.

b. Department employee recipients will receive $10,000, a certificate signed by the Secretary of State, a glass statuette which is a miniature of the large One Team Award, and a letter from the Secretary of State for his/her official personnel file.

c. Contractor recipients will receive a certificate and letter of recognition, both signed by the Secretary of State and provided to the individuals company in appreciation of the contractors performance, in coordination with the contracting officer.

d. A runner up will be selected and will receive a letter from the Secretary of State. For Department employee recipients, the letter will be placed into his/her personnel file.

3 FAM 4832.25-2 Eligibility

(CT:PER-952; 07-18-2019)
(State Department)
(Applies to Foreign Service, Civil Service, Locally Employed Staff, non-Senate confirmed political appointees, and Contractors)

All current Department of State employees serving in the Foreign Service, Civil Service, as Locally Employed staff, or as non-Senate confirmed political appointees, and current contractors are eligible for nomination and consideration. Only employees are eligible to receive the monetary award and statuette. Contractors are not Department employees.

3 FAM 4832.25-3 Criteria

(CT:PER-952; 07-18-2019)
(State Department)
(Applies to Foreign Service, Civil Service, Locally Employed Staff, non-Senate confirmed political appointees, and Contractors)

Selection is based on exceptional leadership by an individual who:

(1) Demonstrates and communicates a clear understanding of the link between individual and team contributions, and the importance of working together with a shared mission and sense of purpose;

(2) Takes ownership and accepts responsibility for his/her actions and decisions, and projects uncompromising personal and professional integrity, as exemplified in the Departments Professional Ethos Statement;

(3) Fosters effective collaboration within and across office, Bureau, and mission lines that produces outstanding results; and

(4) Respectfully guides and supports teams to enable them to overcome challenging circumstances and achieve Department objectives.

3 FAM 4832.25-4 Nominating and Approval Procedures

(CT:PER-952; 07-18-2019)
(State Department)
(Applies to Foreign Service, Civil Service, Locally Employed Staff, non-Senate confirmed political appointees, and Contractors)

a. Any current employee may nominate an eligible individual who they think meets the award criteria.

b. Nominations do not require endorsement or supervisory approval.

c. Nominations should be submitted using the one-page nomination submission form available on the HR/PE website.

d. The winning nominee will be chosen by a selection committee chaired by the Deputy Secretary or his/her representative and including three other committee members designated by the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources (Director General). Members of the selection committee must recuse themselves if they have any financial interest in or personal ties to any nominated contractor or contracting company under consideration for the award.

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