FS Cartoon by Brian Aggeler’s via State Magazine, April 2019
Posted: 3:06 am EST
Via STATE: MED’s Employee Consultation Services (ECS) office remains open with reduced staffing during the furlough. You can reach ECS at 703-812-2257 or email MEDECS@state.gov. We emailed MEDECS and received the following auto-response email:
Thank you for contacting our office. During this lapse in appropriation period, Employee Consultation Services (ECS) continues to provide urgent short-term counseling services for domestic and overseas staff, Family Advocacy case management, urgent consultations, and referrals. Please provide a short narrative of the nature of your urgent request and one of our clinicians will correspond as soon as possible or you can reach our office during DC working hours at 703-812-2257. For other urgent requests after working hours, please contact us at 202-320-7493.
WorkLife4You (WL4Y) is a comprehensive and confidential resource and referral for employees. WL4Y specialists are accessible 24/7 by phone (1-866-552-4748) and online to provide expert guidance and referrals for a wide variety of services to help employees balance the demands of their professional and personal lives. Employees can view the services by logging into the website, www.Worlklife4You.com, with the Screen name: statedepartment and Password: infoquest. Employees will need to register individually to use the services.
Via USAID Administrator Mark Green: Our colleagues who are managing the email box firstname.lastname@example.org briefed me that they have received several questions about whether Staff Care remains open. Yes, it does. Staff Care is available to the USAID workforce throughout the funding lapse. Staff Care does great work, and we encourage you to reach out whenever necessary. As we have heard about some of the challenges our colleagues are facing at this time, we encourage you to share this message broadly.
We encourage you and your colleagues to reach out whenever necessary to Staff Care, which will remain available throughout the lapse in appropriations. The Staff Care Call Center is open 24/7 and can be accessed through the toll-free phone number below or the website. The Staff Care Services Center in Washington, D.C., at 601 13th Street, N.W., Suite 900 South, is open for walk-ins and appointments from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. You may make appointments for the Staff Care Services Center through the call-center line as well.
Staff Care Services 24 Hours a Day, 7 Days a Week, 365 Days a Year
Free Phone: 877-988-7243
Direct Dial: 919-645-4960
Reverse Charge Calling: +44-0-208-987-6200 (Call your international operator and request the charges be reversed to the number listed above.)
Registration code: USAID
USAID Staff Care Services Center
601 13th Street, N.W.
Suite 900 South
Washington, D.C. 20005
The Employee Assistance Program remains available throughout the lapse. Feel free to contact 1-888-993-7650.
You can call or visit a provider to help you make a choice. And, you can talk with a mental health counselor at our 24/7 Access Helpline 1-888-7WE-HELP to help you select the most appropriate provider. Check link for list of providers and contact info.
- Same Day Urgent Care
You can walk into a clinic located at 35 K Street N and be seen the same day without an appointment from 8:30 am to 3 pm. Services include assessment, counseling, psychiatric evaluation and medication management. You may be referred to a community provider for ongoing care. If you have questions, please call (202) 442-4202.
If you are in a crisis and need to talk to someone, call the CrisisLink Hotline at 703.527.4077 or text “connect” to 85511 (for TTY, dial 711), or the Department of Community & Human Services Emergency Services at 703.746.3401.
The Crisis Center provides crisis mental health services 24 hours a day/365 days a year. Services are provided by telephone (240-777-4000) or in person at 1301 Piccard Drive in Rockville (no appointment needed). Visit https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/HHS-Program/Program.aspx?id=BHCS/BHCS24hrcrisiscenter-p204.html.
We’re intentionally using our 12-letter curse word instead of the shorter one. We’ll wash our mouth and keyboard with Lifebuoy soap for eight seconds longer after we have this up. You’re welcome.
— Matt Lee (@APDiploWriter) January 12, 2019
Shutdown hits Foggy Bottom: Diplomats are filing for unemployment benefits. Unpaid employees are working overtime to prepare a massive ambassadors’ conference. A U.S. diplomatic installation in Europe running out of toilet paper. My latest: https://t.co/GFzIuKEboK
— Robbie Gramer (@RobbieGramer) January 11, 2019
In today’s installment of the Shutdown Notebook, a foreign service officer on the self-destruction of the institutions that made America stronghttps://t.co/ji5hoXGJUL
— James Fallows (@JamesFallows) January 12, 2019
We understand that the OPM sample letters to creditors during the furlough are actually driving some of our readers “insane.” This blogpost is for you. The first Wayback Machine capture of opm.gov was January 23, 2013. You will note that the website does not include sample letters to creditors. But there was a shutdown on Tuesday, October 1, 2013, which lasted for 16 days. A December 31, 2013 capture of opm.gov includes a longer Furlough Guidance including Sample Letters for Creditors, Mortgage Companies and Landlords (Word file) [49.87 KB]. The four-page document includes a cover page titled, “Sample Letters”, and three
temple template letters to creditor, mortgage company, and landlord.
In December 2016, OPM similarly had undated
issued a Sample Letters for Creditors, Mortgage Companies and Landlords (Word file) [85.5 KB] online. This document includes basically identical sample letters from 2013. The sample letters issued by OPM on December 27, right to that note about consulting “your personal attorney” is identical to the 2013 and 2016 versions. There were other government shutdowns prior to 2013, but the Wayback Machine does not include any opm.gov archive before 2013. It is possible that these letters existed prior to 2013 and they were just not archived online or they may have been created first in 2013 during the October 2013 shutdown to assist federal employees who encountered problems with creditors, mortgage companies, and landlords during a two-week shutdown. If you were at OPM or OMB and was nerdy enough to follow this in 2013, let us know.
OPM’s current version of the sample letters, although not marked as an update in the OPM website, removed the reference to a “personal attorney” and now just says “Following are sample letters that you may use as a guide when working with your creditors. OPM is not able to provide legal advice to individual employees.” This version is still four pages long but, it appears that OPM had also removed the last letter, the “Sample Letter to Landlord” and page 4 is now just an empty page. The Landlord sample letter includes the item about “the possibility of trading my services to perform maintenance (e.g. painting, carpentry work) in exchange for partial rent payments” which garnered a lot of attention on social media.
Back in July, we blogged that State/OIG cited a State Department’s revocation of an employee’s security clearance in retaliation for whistleblowing in its Semi-Annual Report to Congress for October 2017-March 2018. State/OIG recommended that the whistleblower’s security clearance be reinstated (see State/OIG Finds @StateDept Revoked Security Clearance in Retaliation For Whistleblowing). Retaliatory revocation is not an unheard of practice but we believed this is the first time it’s been reported publicly to the Congress.
Also in July, there was a joint OIG-State memo noting that “Whistleblowers perform a critically important service to the Department of State and to the public when they disclose fraud, waste, and abuse. The Department is committed to protecting all personnel against reprisal for whistleblowing. This summer OIG told us that Congress enacted a new provision in 2017 that requires an agency to suspend for at least 3 days a supervisor found to have engaged in a prohibited personnel practice, such as whistleblower retaliation, and to propose removal of a supervisor for the second prohibited personnel practice. (see @StateDept’s Retaliatory Security Clearance Revocation Now Punishable By [INSERT Three Guesses].
In September, we note the time lapse since the official report was made to the Congress and wondered what action the State Department took in this case. If the State Department believes, as the memo states that “Whistleblowers perform a critically important service to the Department of State and to the public” we really wanted to know what the State Department has done to the official/officials responsible for this retaliatory security clearance revocation.
We also want to see how solid is that commitment in protecting personnel against reprisal — not in words, but action. So we’ve asked the State Department the following questions:
1) Has the security clearance been reinstated for the affected employee, and if so, when?
2) Has the senior official who engaged in this prohibited personnel practice been suspended per congressional mandate, and if so, when and for how long? and
3) Has the State Department proposed a removal of any supervisor/s for engaging in this prohibited personnel practice now or in the past?
As you can imagine, our friends over there are busy swaggering and to-date have not found the time to write back.
Folks, it’s been eight months since that annual report went to the U.S. Congress. If you’re not going to penalize the official or officials who revoked an employee’s security clearance out of retaliation, you were just wasting the letters of the alphabet and toner in that darn paper writing out a whistleblower protection memo.
And the Congress should be rightly pissed.
Career diplomat Uzra Zeya previously served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Paris. Previous to that, she was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL). She has over two decades of policy experience in the Department, where she has focused on the Near East and South Asia regions and multilateral affairs. Since joining the Foreign Service in 1990, Ms. Zeya’s overseas assignments have included Paris, Muscat, Damascus, Cairo, and Kingston. Ms. Zeya also served as Chief of Staff to Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, where she supported a range of policy initiatives, ranging from the U.S. response to transitions in the Middle East to deepening engagement with emerging global powers. Other assignments include serving as Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, Deputy Executive Secretary to Secretaries Rice and Clinton, Director of the Executive Secretariat Staff, and as UNGA coordinator for the International Organizations bureau. Below is an except from the piece she wrote for Politico.
Via Politico: Trump Is Making American Diplomacy White Again
I worked at the State Department for 27 years and was proud to watch it become more diverse. Until President Trump
In 2017, as the media ran out of synonyms for “implosion” in describing Rex Tillerson’s tenure as secretary of state, a quieter trend unfolded in parallel: the exclusion of minorities from top leadership positions in the State Department and embassies abroad.
This shift quickly became apparent in the department’s upper ranks. In the first five months of the Trump administration, the department’s three most senior African-American career officials and the top-ranking Latino career officer were removed or resigned abruptly from their positions, with white successors named in their places. In the months that followed, I observed top-performing minority diplomats be disinvited from the secretary’s senior staff meeting, relegated to FOIA duty (well below their abilities), and passed over for bureau leadership roles and key ambassadorships.
Although the department did not dispute the decline in minority and female ambassador nominees, an official said the percentage of African Americans, Hispanics and women hired as Foreign Service officers had increased from 2016 to 2017. That’s an encouraging sign at the entry level, but it does not address reduced minority representation at the senior level. With dozens of ambassadorial and other senior positions vacant, there is still time for Secretary Pompeo to reverse the slide in diversity among the department’s leadership; it’s worth noting that the Trump administration is not even two years in, while Obama and Bush each had eight years to shape the department’s top ranks. But up to now, Foggy Bottom’s upper echelons are looking whiter, more male and less like America.
In my own case, I hit the buzz saw that Team Trump wielded against career professionals after leading the U.S. Embassy in Paris through three major terrorist attacks over three years and after planning President Trump’s Bastille Day visit. Upon returning to Washington, as accolades for the president’s visit poured in, I was blocked from a series of senior-level jobs, with no explanation. In two separate incidents, however, colleagues told me that a senior State official opposed candidates for leadership positions—myself and an African-American female officer—on the basis that we would not pass the “Breitbart test.” One year into an administration that repudiated the very notion of America I had defended abroad for 27 years, I knew I could no longer be a part of it, and I left government earlier this year.
[I]t is difficult to leverage diversity with a Senior Foreign Service that remains 88.8 percent white and more than two-thirds male. If the State Department is not going to acknowledge this problem, Congress should insist on a serious commitment to diversity in American diplomacy from Secretary Pompeo—by demanding answers for the slide in minority and female senior representation at State, accountability if any officials have violated equal opportunity laws, prohibitions on political retaliation and protections for employees who report wrongdoing.
“Colleagues told me that a senior State official opposed candidates for leadership positions—myself and an African-American female officer—on the basis that we would not pass the ‘Breitbart test.’” cc: @statedeptspox @SecPompeo https://t.co/Aas7T2yuQV
— Nahal Toosi (@nahaltoosi) September 17, 2018
Author Uzra Zeya was a senior career diplomat at the @StateDept.
— Diplopundit (@Diplopundit) September 17, 2018
Six years ago today, protesters attacked the US Embassy Tunis compound in Tunisia and torched the vehicles in the diplomatic compound (see US Embassy Tunisia: Protesters breach and set compound on fire (video); Embassy now on Ordered Departure). Below is a TEDxFoggyBottom talk from June by a career diplomat who was there during that 2012 attack on Embassy Tunis.
This is something to watch, especially for folks who do not quite understand the Foreign Service, or appreciate how career FS people many, many times had to tell their loved ones goodbye, send them off to safety without knowing if they will see them again, while they stay to do the jobs they are tasked to do in foreign countries that are often hostile and dangerous.
Via YouTube/TEDx Talks
What does it take to survive a deadly attack on an embassy? For career Foreign Service Officer Lucia Piazza, strong leadership before a crisis is key to saving lives under pressure. Lucia Piazza is the Director of Crisis Management and Strategy in the Office of the Secretary of State. A career Foreign Service Officer, since joining the State Department in 2001 Lucia has represented the US government as a diplomat in countries throughout Africa and the Middle East. Lucia received a Master of Science degree in National Security Strategy from the National War College, National Defense University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of New Hampshire. She is the recipient of multiple awards including two Superior Honor Awards for her leadership during the 2012 attack on Embassy Tunis and a Superior Honor Award in 2017 for her leadership of the State Department’s response to Hurricanes Irma, Jose, and Maria when she and her team oversaw the evacuation and repatriation of over 3000 U.S. citizens. Lucia speaks Arabic, French, Italian, and Spanish. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at https://www.ted.com/tedx
Institutional betrayal can lead to real psychological and physical harm.
A 27-year-old medical resident in general surgery is sexually harassed by two men – the chief resident and a staff physician at the hospital. She feels trapped. When one of the men’s actions escalates to assault, she struggles to find the strength and courage to report it.
When she finally does, will the outcome harm her even more?
The story, a fictional composite based on real accounts in our research, is agonizingly familiar. The outcome is often worse. When sexual harassment and assault occur in the context of an institution – a school, the military, a workplace – the behavior of institutional leaders can become a powerful force in how the victim fares.
From Susan Fowler’s poor treatment by Uber’s human resources department to the silence of non-abusive men in Harvey Weinstein’s orbit, our most powerful institutions often act without courage.
However, if institutions want to do the hard work, they can help victims and prevent violence in the first place – by choosing courage instead of betrayal.
How betrayal harms health
My colleagues and I first introduced the term institutional betrayal in 2007, and have since explored it further, including in a book, “Blind to Betrayal.”
Institutional betrayal is harm an institution does to those who depend upon it. This betrayal can take the form of overt policies or behaviors, such as discriminatory rules or genocide.
Harm can also mean failing to do that what is reasonably expected of the institution, such as not providing relief to disaster victims or failing to respond effectively to sexual violence. For instance, some victims of assault are punished or even demoted or fired for reporting the assault to their institution.
In our studies, we found that more than 40 percent of college student participants who were sexually victimized in an institutional context did also report experiences of institutional betrayal.
These power ratios between harasser and victim can be quite significant, depending on the victim’s status. While the medical resident’s issues in our first example are deeply troubling, she may have more leverage to seek justice than a hotel or restaurant worker who is the daily and unrelenting target of harassment.
My work with clinical psychologist Carly Smith at Penn State shows that institutional betrayal can cause both emotional and physical health problems, even for those who have experienced similar levels of trauma from interpersonal betrayal.
One study found that institutional betrayal exacerbates symptoms associated with sexual trauma, such as anxiety, dissociation and sexual problems.
Other researchers have found similar effects. For instance, military sexual trauma survivors who have also experienced institutional betrayal have higher rates of PTSD symptoms and depression than those who have not experienced it. Perhaps most alarming, the survivors with institutional betrayal experiences had higher odds of attempting suicide.
In another study, we discovered that institutional betrayal is associated with physical health problems, such as headaches, sleep problems and shortness of breath.
What can we do to prevent and address institutional betrayal? The antidote is something my colleagues and I call “institutional courage.”
The details of institutional courage depend to some extent on the type of institution involved, but there are 10 general principles that can apply across most institutions.
1. Comply with criminal laws and civil rights codes.
Go beyond mere compliance. Avoid a check-box approach by stretching beyond minimal standards of compliance and reach for excellence in non-violence and equity.
2. Respond sensitively to victim disclosures.
Avoid cruel responses that blame and attack the victim. Even well-meaning responses can be harmful by, for instance, taking control away from the victim or by minimizing the harm. Better listening skills can also help institutions respond sensitively.
3. Bear witness, be accountable and apologize.
Create ways for individuals to discuss what happened to them. This includes being accountable for mistakes and apologizing when appropriate.
4. Cherish the whistleblower.
Those who raise uncomfortable truths are potentially the best friends of an institution. Once people in power have been notified about a problem, they can take steps to correct it. Encourage whistleblowing through incentives like awards and salary boosts.
5. Engage in a self-study.
Institutions should make a regular practice of asking themselves if they are promoting institutional betrayal. Focus groups and committees charged with regular monitoring can make all the difference.
6. Conduct anonymous surveys.
Well-done anonymous surveys are a powerful tool for disrupting institutional betrayal. Employ experts in sexual violence measurement, use the best techniques to get meaningful data, provide a summary of the results and talk openly about the findings. This will inspire trust and repair.
We developed a tool called the Institutional Betrayal Questionnaire. First published in 2013, the questionnaire probes a company’s employer-employee work environment to assess vulnerability to potential problems, the ease or difficulty of reporting such issues and how complaints are processed and handled.
7. Make sure leadership is educated about research on sexual violence and related trauma.
Teach about concepts and research on sexual violence and institutional betrayal. Use the research to create policies that prevent further harm to victims of harassment and assault.
8. Be transparent about data and policy.
Sexual violence thrives in secrecy. While privacy for individuals must be respected, aggregate data, policies and processes should be open to public input and scrutiny.
9. Use the power of your company to address the societal problem.
For instance, if you’re at a research or educational institution, then produce and disseminate knowledge about sexual violence. If you are in the entertainment industry, make documentaries and films. Find a way to use your product to help end sexual violence.
10. Commit resources to steps 1 through 9.
Good intentions are a good starting place, but staff, money and time need to be dedicated to make this happen. As Joe Biden once said: “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
By André Spicer | A professor of organisational behaviour at the Cass Business School at City, University of London, he is author of Desperately Seeking Self-Improvement: A Year Inside the Optimisation Movement (2017), co-written with Carl Cederström. His latest book is Business Bullshit (2018).
After getting lost in the conference hotel, I finally located the ‘creativity workshop’. Joining the others, I sat cross-legged on the floor. Soon, an ageing hippie was on his feet. ‘Just walk around the room and introduce yourself,’ he said. ‘But don’t use words.’ After a few minutes of people acting like demented mimes, the hippie stopped us. ‘Now grab a mandala,’ he said, pointing to a pile of what looked like pages from a mindfulness colouring-in book. ‘And use those to bring your mandala to life,’ he said pointing at a pile of magic markers. After 30 minutes of colouring, he told us to share our mandalas. A woman described how her red mandala represented her passionate nature. A man explained how his black mandala expressed the negative emotions haunting his life. A third person found words too constraining, so she danced about her mandala. Leaving the room after the session, a participant turned to me and quietly said: ‘What a load of bullshit.’
All over the world, organisations encourage kooky activities unrelated to employees’ work. I have attended workplace retreats where I learned beat-boxing and African drumming. I have heard about organisations that encourage employees to walk across hot coals, take military assault courses, and guide a raft down dangerous rapids. There are organisations that force their employees to stage a lingerie show, take part in a ‘bush-tucker trial’ by eating insects, and dress up in giant animal costumes to act out fairy tales.
My cynical fellow participant in the mandala-colouring workshop described it as ‘bullshit’. She had chosen her words wisely. The philosopher Harry Frankfurt at Princeton University defined bullshit as talk that has no relationship to the truth. Lying covers up the truth, while bullshit is empty, and bears no relationship to the truth.
The mandala workshop bore many of the tell-tale signs of bullshit. The session was empty of facts and full of abstractions. Participants skipped between buzzwords such as ‘authenticity’, ‘self-actualisation’ and ‘creativity’. I found it impossible to attribute meaning to this empty talk. The harder I tried, the less sense it made. So, during the event, I politely played along.
After spending more than a decade studying business and organisations, I can assure you that my unheroic response is the norm. Most people are likely to follow my bad example, and stick to the script. There are many reasons for this, but politeness is an important one. Bullshit greases the wheels of sociability. Questioning bullshit can be a sure way to lose friends and alienate people. Even when we smell bullshit, we are willing to ignore it so we can avoid conflict and maintain a polite atmosphere. Our desire to keep social interaction going smoothly prevails over our commitment to speak the truth.
In a short aside in his book On Bullshit (2005), Frankfurt describes an interaction between the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and Fania Pascal, Wittgenstein’s friend and Russian teacher. ‘I had my tonsils out and was in Evelyn Nursing Home feeling sorry for myself,’ Pascal wrote. ‘Wittgenstein called. I croaked: “I feel just like a dog that has been run over.”’ Wittgenstein, apparently, was disgusted: ‘You don’t know what a dog that has been run over feels like.’
Wittgenstein’s response seems not just odd, but rude. So why did the great philosopher do this? Frankfurt’s answer is that throughout his life ‘Wittgenstein devoted his philosophical energies largely to identifying and combatting what he regarded as insidiously disruptive forms of “non-sense”.’ Wittgenstein is ‘disgusted’ by Pascal’s remark because ‘it is not germane to the enterprise of describing reality’. She is ‘not even concerned whether her statement is correct’. If we were to react like Wittgenstein whenever we were faced with bullshit, our lives would probably become very difficult indeed.
Instead of following Wittgenstein’s example, there are ways we can politely call bullshit. The first step is to calmly ask what the evidence says. This is likely to temper our interlocutors’ views, even if the results are inconclusive. The second step is to ask about how their idea would work. The psychologists Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keil at Yale University found that when they asked subjects to tell them, on a scale of 1 to 7, how they would rate their knowledge about everyday objects such as toilets, most people would say about 4 or 5. But when asked to describe precisely how a toilet worked, they dropped the rating of their own toilet expertise to below 3. Asking over-confident bullshitters exactly how their idea might work is another way to slow them down. Finally, ask the bullshitter to clarify what he means. Often, bullshit artists rely on ‘zombie nouns’ such as ‘globalisation’, ‘facilitation’ and ‘optimisation’. Pushing beyond linguistic boondoggles helps everyone to see what is solid and what is clothed in ornamental talk.
Politely questioning a peer is one thing, but it is much trickier to call out the bullshit of junior colleagues. Decades of research has found that people listen to positive feedback and ignore negative feedback. But Frederik Anseel from King’s College, London has found that people are willing to listen when negatives are focused on the future. So instead of concentrating on the bullshit a junior might have created in the past, it is best to ask how it can be minimised in the future.
Calling out an underling’s piffle might be tough, but calling bullshit on the boss is usually impossible. Yet we also know that organisations that encourage people to speak up tend to retain their staff, learn more, and perform better. So how can you question your superiors’ bullshit without incurring their wrath? One study by Ethan Burris of the University of Texas at Austin provides some solutions. He found that it made a big difference how an employee went about posing the questions. ‘Challenging’ questions were met with punishment, while supportive questions received a fair hearing. So instead of bounding up to your boss and saying: ‘I can’t believe your bullshit,’ it would be a better idea to point out: ‘We might want to check what the evidence says, then tweak it a little to make it better.’
Next time you’re faced with a bullshit attack, it might be tempting to politely zone out. But that only gives the bullshit artist time and space. Or you might be tempted to follow the example of Wittgenstein, and fight back. Sadly, bullshitters are often impervious to full-frontal attack. The most effective tactic in the war on empty talk seems to be to outflank the bullshitter by posing your questions as constructive tweaks, rather than refutations. That way, you might be able to clean up the mess from within, rather than raging from the outside.
This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.