FSJ: Tandem Couples — Till Reassignment Do Us Part, the 30th Annual Edition

Posted: 4:02 am ET

The current issue of the Foreign Service Journal includes a piece on tandem couples in the State Department. The article is written by  FSO Fred Odisho who joined the Foreign Service as a political-coned officer in January 2014. He has been separated from his tandem spouse for their first four years in the Foreign Service, and he is looking forward to reuniting with her in the summer of 2017 for their second assignment.  His co-author is USAID FSO Whitney Dubinsky who joined the Foreign Service in 2010 through USAID’s Development Leadership Initiative. Her spouse joined the Foreign Service “after two years of being unable to find meaningful employment at post.”

Excerpt:

Representative of the larger society, Foreign Service families come in all forms, each with its own unique challenges. The dynamic of the modern family has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. The percentage of family members working outside the home has steadily increased. More and more possess professional degrees and experience in a variety of fields. Not surprisingly, they possess traits similar to those of their Foreign Service spouses. In the face of these changes, have Foreign Service policies supporting the modern family kept pace?

For tandem couples—the term for families in which both spouses are members of the Foreign Service—the answer to this question is a resounding no. Little has changed since The New York Times published an article in 1986 titled “State Department; Till Reassignment Do Us Part?” describing the challenges facing tandem couples of that era. Being able to be assigned together was and still is the greatest challenge plaguing the members of any tandem couple. The threat of having to split up their family and children remains ever-present.
[…]
Tandem couples are not trying to circumvent the worldwide availability requirement. They acknowledge that directed assignments are not limited to entry-level employees but are also possible for mid-level and senior-level employees, as witnessed during the wars of the past decade. They understand and accept that they, like all their peers, may have to shoulder one of these directed assignments that may necessitate serving in an unaccompanied capacity.

In fact, one could argue that the unofficial motto of most tandems is, “It’s not a matter of where we serve … so long as we can serve together.” Just like everyone else, we signed up for worldwide availability, not worldwide separation—especially separation that is not directed and is based solely on the luck of the bidding draw.
[…]

The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review says that the federal government takes “work-life balance seriously and will continue to support our employees as they balance their commitment to service with personal wellness and family life. Work-life balance is critical to retaining the best talent.” It is time for senior management to not only say these words but to take substantive action.

Read in full: Tandem Couples: Serving Together, Apart via the Foreign Service Journal’s July/August 2016 issue.

 

Related posts:

Related items:

 

 

 

AAFSW launches online resource, FSHub.org for the Foreign Service community

Posted: 4:21 pm ET

 

The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW), the oldest non­governmental organization supporting the American diplomatic community and administrator of the popular Livelines hosted in Yahoo! Groups since 1998 has just launched its “crowd-sourced” online resource for the Foreign Service community. They rely on the FS community members to suggest relevant links and for volunteers to help keep the links current. Check it out at FSHub.org and help make it grow!

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Below is the announcement shared by the FSHub team:

AAFSW is proud to announce the launch of the Foreign Service Hub, FSHub.org, a user-friendly online source for all Foreign Service community resources.

In the past, AAFSW’s Board and other volunteers have often been frustrated by the lack of awareness in the Foreign Service community about the support resources available to help them, ranging from AAFSW itself, to FLO’s website, to specialized social media groups.

To attack this problem, Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel, Patricia Linderman and Lara Center proposed and obtained a Una Chapman Cox Foundation grant, and organized a survey and focus groups, together with Barbara Reioux and many other volunteers. Based on this input, they hired webmaster Nicole Spiridakis, designer Lauren Ketchum and marketing expert Trena Bolden Fields and developed a beautiful, streamlined site that is now ready for use.

FSHub.org is a free, open Internet site aimed at presenting all relevant Foreign Service resources. Of course, it will continue to expand and improve based on user input.

All readers are encouraged to:

–- Visit FSHub.org and use it often!

-– Tell others in the Foreign Service community about it, especially newcomers.

-– Suggest any new links, improvements and events to fshub@aafsw.org. (We know there is still a lot missing, especially with regard to other foreign affairs agencies — your input is needed!)

-– Consider joining our volunteer team to identify and maintain links in an area of interest to you (for instance, for singles, retirees, male EFMs, USAID, parents in DC, etc.). Contact us at fshub@aafsw.org

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New Directive: Social Media Info Collection For Security Clearance Background Investigations

Posted: 1:37 am ET

 

On May 12, 2016, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) authorized the use of social media by official investigators who are conducting background investigations for security clearances.

The directive addresses the collection and use of publicly available social media information during the conduct of personnel security background investigations and adjudications for determining initial or continued eligibility for access to classified national security information or eligibility to hold a sensitive position and the retention of such information. This affects prospective hires and all employees who are subjects of periodic investigations.

The policy says that agencies “may choose to collect publicly available social media information in the personnel security hackground investigation process, which pertains to the covered individual’s associations, behavior and conduct, as long as the information pertains to the adjudicative guidelines for making determinations of initial or continued eligibility for access to classified information or eligibility to hold a sensitive position.”

  • Authorized investigative agencies may collect, usc, and retain publicly available social media information as part of a covered individual’s background investigation and, if collected, shall incorporate the relevant results in the investigative record. The period of coverage for publicly available electronic information will be consistent with the scope of the investigation.
  • Authorized adjudicative agencies may use and retain publicly available social media information when determining initial or continued eligibility of a covered individual for access to classified information or eligibility to hold a sensitive position.
  • Collection of publicly available social media information shall only be conducted after obtaining the signed Authorization for Release of information form of the Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, which includes notice of the collection of such information.
  • Only publicly available social media information pertaining to the covered individual under investigation shall intentionally be collected. Absent a national security concern, or criminal reporting requirement, information pertaining to individuals other than the covered individual will not be investigated or pursued. Information inadvertently collected relating to other individuals will not be retained unless that information is relevant to a security determination or the covered individual.

The directive says that covered individuals “shall not be requested or required” to provide passwords, log into a private account; or take any action that would disclose non-publicly available social media information. Agencies are also precluded from creating accounts or using existing accounts on social media for the purpose of connecting (e.g., “friend”, “follow”) to a covered individual or enlist the assistance of a third party in order to bypass privacy controls and/or access otherwise non-publicly available social media information.

Read more below or see Collection, Use, and Retention of Publicly Available Social Media Information in Personnel Security Background Investigations and AdjudicationsSecurity Executive Agent Directive 5, May 12, 2016.

Via FAS/Secrecy News:

 

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Burn Bag: CDA* has been a disaster for entry-level bidding this year?

Via Burn Bag:

“CDA* has been a disaster for entry-level bidding this year and effectively is forcing people in high-equity positions to rebid because the bidders were not told they had to bid on priority posts**. CDA is punishing second-tour officers for CDA’s inability to manage a bidding cycle.”

via professionalfangirls.com

via professionalfangirls.com

*CDA – Office of Career Development and Assignment

** Priority Staffing Posts/High Threat Posts (e.g., Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, South Sudan, Libya, and Yemen)

** priority posts – positions marked “high priority” by the bureaus.

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Burn Bag: We aren’t even trying to hide this stuff anymore? Bwaaah!

Via Burn Bag:

Job Title:    Visa Analyst    
Job Category:     Non-Exempt
Location:    Washington, DC    
Travel:    N/A
Level/Salary Range:    NEGOTIABLE    
Position Type:    Full Time
Date posted:    April 29, 2016

Job Description: Summary: Immediate full time requirement – CA/VO Visa Analyst – in support of the U.S. Department of State (DOS), Counselor Affairs/Visa Office. Final Top Secret Security Clearance required and candidate must meet eligibility criteria to be granted access to Sensitive Compartmented Information when/if required. The Visa Analyst provides support to the Government staff and prepares letters, reports, and specialized correspondence. A Government manager will provide day-to-day oversight and direction.   

“We aren’t even trying to hide anymore that we plan to supervise the employees of third party contractors [TPCs].  This insidious practice ultimately denies opportunities to government employees who miss out on training and conference experiences when the employees of third party contractors attend instead.  Why do we offer training to these employees of TPCs when they were supposed to already be trained?”

plsmakeitstop

Via media.riffsy.com

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FS Promotion Self-Certification: Assigning Responsibility For Ensuring the Accuracy of Personnel Documents?

Posted: 3:20 am EDT

 

Last week, we posted a Burn Bag submission about ALDAC 16 State 27420 sent on Mar 15, 2016 on Foreign Service Promotion Eligibility Self-Certification and its alleged potential impact to future grievance (see Burn Bag: Foreign Service Promotion Eligibility Self-Certification and Potential Grievance). This self-certification is not/not related to the self-certification required by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

We’ve emailed Barbara Stephenson who was elected last year as AFSA president to inquire about this  but received no response.  We’ve also emailed Angie Bryan who was elected AFSA VP but only received an out of office response that she is on an extensive leave and is only at the office part-time.   This might be the fourth or fifth time we have requested information from these elected representatives and so far, we have only managed to get one courteous auto response from one professional machine.

So we had to find some other insider who could help us understand what’s going on here. Our source who is familiar with the matter but is speaking on background explained to us that the Bureau of Human Resources (State/HR) has been trying for sometime to  “make people aware of the actual requirements for promotion” and to “get them to take it seriously.” Apparently — and we didn’t know this — employees have theoretically been responsible for ensuring the accuracy of their personnel documents since at least 1974 (when the Privacy Act gave them the right to question that accuracy).

In any case, employees are reportedly required to certify that they have 1) completed the Leadership and Management Training requirement for their current grade; 2) reviewed the Career Development Program (CDP) appropriate for skill and grade; 3) reviewed their performance folder in their eOPF to ensure that all EERs (including military evaluations, if applicable), training reports, and awards (including approved awards for those who served on Active Military Duty) are included and any discipline documents scheduled for removal have been properly removed; 4) verified the accuracy of their information in their Employee Profile or correct the information  if incorrect; and 5) not been on Leave Without Pay (LWOP) for more than 8 months during the rating period.

We specifically asked about a potential future grievance and here is our source’s personal view:

It would certainly be reasonable to assume  that if you certified on the questionnaire that you had reviewed your file for accuracy and then later grieved claiming that your file were inaccurate, your self-certification might be evidence against you. On the other hand, I would also assume that if you demonstrated that you had tried to fix the error (e.g written to someone or used the online tool to open a help-desk ticket, and could demonstrate that it had not been corrected, that would be considered as well. The Department knows that it sometimes takes a while to fix things, and it must apply a reasonable person standard to the facts – e.g. if you had a current screen shot showing that the PAR [Performance Accountability Report] remained inaccurate, that would be pretty hard to ignore.
[…]
The situation would be harder if you had done nothing to correct the inaccuracy. The burden of proof in this type of grievance is always on the grievant to show that the Department, not the grievant, acted improperly. If the employee certified that he/she had reviewed his PAR and could not demonstrate having done something to correct an error, then clearly that burden of proof would be harder to meet. The Department could argue that the employee should have tried to fix it, and didn’t, ergo, the Department is not to blame.  Likewise if the employee never applied for required training, or never even bid on a position that would meet a CDP requirement.

The explanation seems reasonable to us but we can understand why this would also be a cause for concern for others. We appreciate the Foggy Bottom Nightingale for responding to our questions.  This is for information only and we urge employees to contact their elected representatives at AFSA if they have concerns about the self-certification requirements.  Also, if the Bureau of Human Resources (State/HR) is indeed trying to get employees to “buy-in” to the self-certification requirements, we expect that State/HR or DGHR would have staffers available to answer questions and address concerns from employees.

 

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Burn Bag: Another Senior Cede Request, and It’s Not Even in FSBid? (Updated)

Via Burn Bag:

“There’s a senior cede request for Deputy Executive Director in Consular Affairs, and it’s not even in FSBid.”

Note: Told via Twitter that this is bidlisted. Burn Bag entries are taken “as is” so you folks can look it up if you have access to the system.

Updated on March 12, 2016 from Burn Bag correction received: “Oops!  Misread some info.  Consular Affairs Deputy Executive Director was in fact in FSBid, just with incomplete info.  Pls consider removal.  Sincere regrets for the error.”

 

Related posts:

 

Restoring Faith in the Foreign Service Assignment System Starts With Talking About It

Posted: 1:27 am EDT
Updated: 2:52 a.m. EDT
Updated March 12, 2016

 

We understand that the State Department has just finished up a big online survey on how to improve the Foreign Service bidding process. One part of the survey apparently includes improving the process through “increase transparency.”  Well, it seems it seeks to improve transparency for the bureaus so they can tell who is actually a serious bidder, but it does not improve transparency for the FS employees who are doing the bidding. That part appears to have been short-circuited so unless DGHR starts looking at the whole system, the process is not going to significantly improve for everyone except the bureau folks who are tasked with selecting the employees rotating in.

Now that we’re thinking about the bidding process …. remember last year when we wrote about the controversy about who’s going to be the next Consul General in Istanbul (see Whoa! The Next Consul General in Istanbul Will Be a Political Appointee? and Coming Soon to PBS — That CG Istanbul Position Is Apparently Another Foggy Bottom Drama)?  The March issue of the Foreign Service Journal includes a Speaking Out piece by career diplomat Matthew Keene who has been in the Foreign Service since 1999.  According to FSJ, the author has previously worked in the Office of Career Development and Assignments in the Bureau of Human Resources as a special assistant and an assignments officer.  His piece mentions our blogpost although it does not specifically mention the USCG Istanbul position.

He notes the “tenacity with which many CDOs and AOs argue at panel on behalf of their clients and their bureaus”  and concludes that “these people care about you and the organization, and they are fiercely protective of the integrity of the assignments process.” But the Speaking Out piece also does not mince words about the problems with the Foreign Service assignments.  Excerpt below:

Last November, the blogger known as “Diplopundit” published a story about the assignment of a well-connected FS-1 as principal officer in a European Bureau post, a Senior Foreign Service position.

Since the candidate was below grade for the position, this was a “stretch assignment,” which requires the division in the Bureau of Human Resources responsible for the career development and assignment of officers who are FS-1 or higher (HR/CDA/SL) to cede the position to the division responsible for mid-level officers (HR/CDA/ML) after canvassing its clients to gauge interest in the position by currently unassigned officers.

That no qualified Senior FSO bid on a position as prominent as this one frankly strains credulity. The episode underscores a serious perception problem when it comes to Foreign Service assignments. For all the State Department’s carefully crafted standard operating procedures, as well as the Foreign Affairs Manual and Foreign Affairs Handbook guidance—to say nothing of the attention paid to precedent and the needs of the Service—when push comes to shove, getting the best jobs depends far more on who you know than what.

Indeed, if you are fortunate enough to breathe the rarefied air in the front office of a highly regarded assistant secretary or another sixth- or seventh-floor denizen, there is almost no position to which you cannot aspire.
[…]
So how do ridiculous stretch assignments happen, then? Why do positions mysteriously vanish off one bid list only to reappear days later on the list of a future cycle—or on the now list? Why are inquiries on jobs that are ostensibly open in FS Bid dismissed or unanswered? Why was some employee allowed to extend for a fourth year in a non-differential post when no one else was permitted to do the same? And how on earth did that officer get a language waiver, when the FS is filled with officers who speak that language?

These anomalies are more likely to happen when HR is run by senior officers insufficiently committed to overseeing a system that is fair, just and above reproach. The fact is that far too often, those in the most important positions, the gatekeepers, aren’t serving out of any great love of personnel management work. Some are serving a domestic tour while awaiting a plum overseas deputy chief of mission or principal officer gig. Others find themselves serving domestically for personal reasons, and believe HR provides a convenient landing spot.

The author does not just point out the problems but also writes about how to restore faith in the system. “HR must do a far better job of recruiting senior leaders uncompromising in their commitment to an FS assignments system that sets an example for the rest of the Service in terms of integrity and transparency, that meets the needs of the Service, and that upholds core values even when it is uncomfortable or may disappoint someone further up the food chain.”

Less than a day after we posted this article, we heard via Burn Bag that there is a senior cede request for Deputy Executive Director in Consular Affairs. That position allegedly is not in FSBid. Deleted due to subsequent correction received.

We have to add that this is not just a serious perception problem, and of course, it disturbs more than just the rank and file in Human Resources.  A longtime diplomat who follows this blog told us that “the reason this sort of thing gets to me is that as diplomats we are constantly promoting merit-based decision-making, democracy and rule of law, and anti-corruption in countries where we serve, a very tough message when our own department flaunts these principles.” That is not an isolated perspective.

We admire Mr. Keene for writing this piece. It takes courage to do this in a culture where frank and straight discussions about uncomfortable issues doesn’t always get the safe space it needs.

Read the full More Hemingway, Less Kafka, Please.

Let’s face it, this secretary of state or the next, and next ones after that are not going to do anything about making this process better. They will all have a host of things to do, places to go, and strengthening the institution is not going to be on anyone’s top list.  So here’s something from the Lorax to think about.

 

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Email of the Day: More … Gatekeeper Crap — “Mills has shaped a State Department-as-Hillaryland”

Posted: 3:10 am EDT

 

Via foia.state.gov from Leopold v. State Department FOIA litigation:

Apparently there was some grumbling about the accessibility of the secretary of state to the career diplomats several months into HRC’s tenure. Al Kamen reported it, and later Ben Smith picked up the tidbit for Politico (this was in 2009 before he went to BuzzFeed):

 

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Suspending Embassy Operations: Post and Bureau Not Told, and FOIA Redaction Fail

Posted: 1:12 am EDT
Updated: 5:28 pm EDT

 

On February 25, 2011, the State Department announced the suspension of U.S. Embassy operations in Libya (see State Dept Suspends US Embassy Operations in #Libya, Withdraws All Personnel).  What we didn’t know then but we know now, thanks to the Clinton email dump, is that just a few days before that, neither the embassy nor the bureau was aware that they were suspending operations.

February 22, 2011 09:50 PM – HRC aide Jake Sullivan sent an email (partially redacted with FOIA b(5) code) to Janet A. Sanderson, the Deputy Assistant Secretary Bureau of Near East Affairs, with subject line “Suspending embassy ops” and asking “Where do we stand?”

February 22, 2011 10:14 PM – Sanderson emailed Sullivan:

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Feb 22 22:18:23 2011 (10:18 PM) – Sanderson also sent an email to M/Patrick Kennedy and Kathleen T. Austin-Ferguson, M’s Executive Assistant:

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February 22, 2011 10:37 PM – Kennedy responded to Sanderson saying he “talked to cheryl and tom” and that “they are also unaware.”“Checking with Secretary. At this moment we are NOT suspending. Fully agree not possible to do tomorrow and also risks libyan blow back.”  Email must be referencing HRC Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills and Deputy Secretary Tom Nides.

Embassy Tripoli eventually suspended operations on February 25, three days after the start of this email chain.  These emails are part of the Clinton email dump and it shows just how messed up is the FOIA at the agency.

On Feb 22 22:40:17 2011 (10:40 PM) – Sanderson responded to the Kennedy email, adding Ronald Schlicher to the email chain. Ambassador Schlicher was previously assigned to Cyprus, and also served as a DAS at the Bureau of Near East Affairs. We are not sure what was his position in 2011, but he must have been attached to NEA to be looped in in this exchange. Ambassador Schlicher was Principal DAS at the NEA bureau, and he would have been Sanderson’s boss at the time.  Here’s a clip from that email:

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Now, take a look at the email below with the same time stamp and same addresses, released as a separate email by the FOIA office at State:

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Why, they’re the same email, except that they were released as separate documents, and in the second document, the email is redacted under the b(5) FOIA exemption, also known in the FOIA community as the “Withhold It Because You Want To” Exemption.  “Yael” must have been Yael Lempert who was assigned to Tripoli as consular section chief in 2009 and featured in the NYT here for the release of four New York Times journalists in 2011 in Libya.  She may have been the acting DCM at the time of the suspension of operations.  “Joan” is presumably Joan Polaschik who was DCM and then CDA of Embassy Tripoli. She is currently the U.S. Ambassador to Algeria.

Here is what DOJ says about the b(5) exemption:

Exemption 5 of the FOIA protects “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.” (1) The courts have construed this somewhat opaque language, with its sometimes confusing threshold requirement, (2) to “exempt those documents, and only those documents that are normally privileged in the civil discovery context.” (3)

Here is what we are not supposed to read according to the FOIA ninjas, except that one of them forgot the Sharpie:

“I have just talked to post (Yael).She and Joan will work to reduce staff and send more out on ferry. Shd get down to 10- 12. She fully understands need for limited staff to stay to deal with community. Believes likely remainder will be position to leave in few days. Says situation is “worse than Baghdad in 2004-2005 “

No matter how you read the above passage, it is difficult to make the case that it fits the b(5) exemption unless you’re thinking of the “withhold it because you want to” exemption threshold.

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Emails in full released via FOIA below:

Suspending Ops Libya – February 22, 2011 11:05 PM: https://cloudup.com/cAlO_WHTfpc

Suspending Ops Libya February 23, 2011 7:59 AM: https://cloudup.com/cD33FlF7TCo

Suspending Ops Libya February 23, 2011 8:08 AM: https://cloudup.com/cjplOQtTEmw