GAO Calls For Pompeo’s “Personal Attention” to Address Priority Open Recommendations

 

The Government Accountability Office’s Gene L. Dodaro, the Comptroller General of the United States has written to Secretary Pompeo calling for his “personal attention” to the GAO’s multiple “open recommendations that should be given high priority.”

In November 2018, we reported on a government-wide basis that 77 percent of our recommendations made in fiscal year 2014 had been closed as implemented.2 State’s recommendation implementation rate for the same time frame was 91 percent. As of March 2019, State had 101 open recommendations.

Among the recommendations are apparently 20 open priority recommendations. The State has implemented 10 of the 20 recommendations since GAO wrote Foggy Bottom a letter in February 2018. And now GAO has urged the secretary’s “personal attention” for the remaining recommendations. In addition, the GAO has added eight new recommendations as priorities in 2019; these are related to data quality, the administration of hardship pay, and embassy construction and now brings the total number of open priority recommendations to 18.

Here are some:

Security of Overseas Personnel and Facilities: Of the 18 open priority recommendations, eight are related to the security and safety of personnel serving overseas. State concurred with these eight recommendations and reported some steps taken to address them.

Fully implementing our two priority recommendations on personnel security could help ensure State personnel are prepared to operate in dangerous situations. In March 2014, we recommended that State take steps to ensure that U.S. civilian personnel are in compliance with the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) training requirements. State has taken action to clarify agency responsibilities and plans to verify FACT compliance. To fully implement these recommendations, State needs to complete and carry out its plans to monitor and verify compliance with the FACT training requirement for permanent and temporary personnel.

Fully implementing our three priority recommendations on physical security at overseas posts could improve the safety and security of personnel serving overseas, particularly in high-threat locations. For example, in July 2015, we recommended that State take steps to clarify existing standards and security-related guidance for diplomatic residences. Although State has conducted a review of existing security standards for diplomatic residences, State needs to complete its efforts to update these standards and take several additional actions to improve its ability to identify and mitigate risks and enhance security policies.

Fully implementing our three recommendations related to transportation security, such as those related to armored vehicles, could improve State’s efforts to manage transportation-related security risks overseas. In October 2016, we recommended that State take steps to enhance its efforts to manage such security risks, including by improving its related guidance and developing monitoring procedures. Although State implemented a shared site for reporting and monitoring each post’s armored vehicle fleet, State needs to create consolidated guidance that specifies transportation security requirements to ensure that posts comply with State’s armored vehicle policy

Security Assistance: Every year the United States provides billions of dollars in assistance to other nations in the form of security equipment and technical assistance. In April 2016, we recommended that State develop time frames for establishing policies and procedures to help the U.S. government provide a more reasonable level of assurance that equipment is not transferred to foreign security forces when there is credible information that a unit has committed a gross violation of human rights. State concurred with this recommendation and reported that it drafted standard operating procedures for conducting equipment vetting globally. To fully implement this recommendation, State needs to finalize its revised guidance for overseas posts that are responsible for vetting foreign security forces prior to transferring equipment to them. Information

Technology: One open priority recommendation, if fully implemented, could improve information technology at State. In May 2016, we found that State spent approximately 80 percent of its information technology budget on operating and maintaining older systems. For example, three of State’s visa systems were more than 20 years old. The software for one of these systems was no longer supported by the vendor, creating challenges related to information security. We recommended that State identify and plan to modernize or replace legacy systems. State concurred with the recommendation. According to State, it is developing a plan for modernizing and migrating each eligible system to the cloud by the end of fiscal year 2019.

Data Quality: By fully implementing three priority recommendations we are adding this year, State could improve the quality of foreign assistance data, including data on democracy assistance, and ensure consistency in published information.

Administration of Hardship Pay: When fully implemented, two priority recommendations could improve State’s administration of hardship pay and its ability to identify and recover improper payments related to hardship pay. In September 2017, we recommended that State assess the cost-effectiveness of its policies and procedures for stopping and starting hardship pay and analyze available data to identify posts at risk of improper payments for hardship pay, among other things. State concurred with the recommendations and reported that it is working to identify changes in policy that would result in greater efficiencies and is planning to utilize the Overseas Personnel System to centrally collect and analyze arrival and departure data. To fully address these recommendations, State needs to provide documentation that the efforts are complete and that the actions have enabled the department to more easily identify and prevent improper payments.

Embassy Construction: By fully implementing three priority recommendations, State could improve budgetary decision-making as well as better align Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) staffing levels and capacity with workforce needs for its Capital Security Construction Program (CSCP). In September 2018, we recommended that State determine the estimated effects of cost inflation on planned CSCP embassy construction capacity and time frames and update this information for stakeholders on a regular basis, such as through the annual budgeting process. We also recommended State provide an analysis for stakeholders identifying those embassies that still need to be replaced to meet State’s security standards and estimating total CSCP costs and projected time frames needed to complete those projects. In addition, we recommended State conduct an OBO-wide workforce analysis to assess staffing levels and workload capacity needed to carry out the full range of OBO’s mission goals, to include the CSCP. State concurred with the recommendations and described several actions planned or under way to address these issues. To fully implement these recommendations, State needs to provide documentation that it has completed these efforts.

Click PDF for the full list of the the GAO’s 18 priority open recommendations for the Department of State as of April 2019.

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Congress Demands Pompeo Turn Over Documents on Political Targeting of @StateDept Employees

 

On March 15, Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Senator Bob Menendez, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations “denounced the State Department’s attempts to obstruct investigations into reports of politically-motivated retaliation against career Department employees.”

In a letter to Secretary Pompeo, they demanded that “the Department comply with past Congressional requests for information on this matter, stretching back over the past year.”

“To date, despite three specific requests and multiple follow-up efforts by our offices, the Department has failed to respond to our requests for interviews or provide any responsive records. After nearly a year, it suggests the State Department is stonewalling a legitimate congressional request for information on matters that are squarely within our Committees’ oversight jurisdiction. We are therefore restating our demand for a response to our prior queries on this matter and are prepared to use appropriate tools at our disposal to prompt a substantive response.”

The congressional demand requires that the Department submit all documents requested by March 21 and facilitate Committee interviews with Department officials implicated in this matter by April 30.

Among the items requested:

(1) all documents and communications referring or relating to any reassignment or proposed reassignment that was considered or ordered since January 20, 2017, of career or civil service employees at the Department;

(2) all documents and communications referring or relating to any proposed or actual reassignment or removal of career or civil service employees at the Department since January 20, 2017, based on alleged personal political beliefs, prior service with previous Administrations, or work on prior Administrations’ foreign policy priorities, including any documents authored by, copying, involving, or referring to:

(a) Christine Ciccone;

(b) Makan Delrahim;

(c) Sean Doocey;

(d) Julia Haller;

(e) Brian Hook;

(f) Edward Lacey;

(g) Matthew Mowers; or

(h) Margaret Peterlin; and

(3) all documents and communications referring or relating to proposed or actual personnel actions since January 20, 2017, against Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, including the curtailment of her detail to the Policy Planning staff.

The congressional request also notes:

“To the extent that the Department may have been relying on a legal theory that our requests somehow lapsed at the end of the 115th Congress, we write today to dispense with that argument and hereby formally restate our prior requests.”

The congressional request asks for transcribed interviews with the following individuals.

A schedule of availability for the Committees to conduct transcribed interviews with each of the following individuals, with the first interview to be conducted no later than April 1, 2019, and with all interviews to be conducted no later than April 30, 2019:

(a) Christine Ciccone;

(b) Makan Delrahim;

(c) Sean Doocey;

(d) Julia Haller;

(e) Brian Hook;

(f) Edward Lacey;

(g) Matthew Mowers;

(h) Margaret Peterlin;

(i) Andrew Veprek;

(j) John Zadrozny; and

(k) Kevin Moley

This request has been overgrown with grass;  some of those they want to interview are no longer in Foggy Bottom. It looks like Congress sent their first request on March 15, 2018, two days after Tillerson was fired in a tweet. The full statement from Rep. Engel and Senator Menendez is available here. The letter to Secretary Pompeo is here.

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DHS/OIG Recommends Disciplinary Action For Ex-Deputy COS Christine Ciccone For Failure to Cooperate With State/OIG Review

Posted: 3:11 am EST

 

On February 13, 2019, Acting DHS/OIG John V. Kelly wrote a memo to DHS Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen concerning DHS Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Christine Ciccone’s “failure to cooperate with Inspector General review.” Prior to moving to DHS, Ms. Ciccone served as deputy chief of staff to then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (also see Tillerson’s Redesign Chief Leaves Office After Three Months, Meet the New Redesigner-in-ChiefRex Tillerson’s Inner Circle Photo Album, Say Cheese Con Quezo!

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, joined by U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, left, and Deputy Chief of Staff Christine Ciccone, prepare for a meeting with U.S./Alaska Permanent Participants to the Arctic Council in Fairbanks, Alaska, on May 10, 2017. [U.S. Air Force photo / Public Domain]

DHS/OIG Kelly also formally recommended that Secretary Nielsen “take appropriate disciplinary action against Ms. Ciccone for failing to cooperate with an Inspector General review.” Excerpt from memo:

Beginning in September 2018, our colleagues at the Department of State Office of Inspector General (State OIG) have been attempting to interview Ms. Ciccone. At the request of several congressional committees,1 State OIG is reviewing allegations of prohibited personnel practices that occurred while Ms. Ciccone was the State Department’s Deputy Chief of Staff. Ms. Ciccone is a key witness in State OIG’s review; however, she has been unwilling to schedule an interview despite repeated requests made to both her and her attorney over many months.
[…]
Pursuant to the Inspector General Act (IG Act), we have assisted State OIG in attempting to schedule an interview with Ms. Ciccone and have enlisted Acting Deputy Secretary Grady in our efforts. We very much appreciate the Deputy Secretary’s assistance and her instruction to Ms. Ciccone that she must participate in the interview. However, as of today, Ms. Ciconne has not scheduled a time to meet with State OIG staff. On Monday February 11, 2019, staff from State OIG, along with DHS OIG Deputy Inspector General Jennifer Costello, met with congressional staff to inform them of Ms. Ciccone’s failure to cooperate.
[…]
DHS has implemented the requirements of the Act in DHS Management Directive 0810.1, which in part states that DHS employees will be subject to disciplinary action if they refuse to provide documents or information or to answer questions posed by the OIG. Ms. Ciccone’s handling of this situation is not consistent with her obligations as an employee under this directive. Further, Ms. Ciccone’s refusal to comply with State OIG’s request for an interview sets a dangerous precedent contrary to the fundamental tenants of the IG Act, with the potential to undermine our critical oversight function. Therefore, I recommend that you take appropriate disciplinary action against Ms. Ciccone under Management Directive 0810.1.

The HFAC statement notes that this review relates to the “ongoing State Department Office of Inspector General review of allegations of politically-motivated retaliation against career State Department employees.”

The HFAC statement provides a background:

  • Multiple whistleblowers have contacted our Committees to call attention to allegations of politically-motivated personnel actions during Ms. Ciccone’s tenure as Deputy Chief of Staff at the State Department.  Chairman Cummings, Chairman Engel, and Ranking Member Menendez reported these practices to State OIG in multiple letters in 2018, as well as in letters to and hearings with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
  • State OIG opened a review of politically-motivated personnel practices in response to congressional requests.
  • During the pendency of the Inspector General’s review, Ms. Ciccone left the State Department to join the Department of Homeland Security as the Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs.  Though she left her position at the State Department, she remains in federal service and is obligated to cooperate with the Inspector General’s inquiry, per the terms of her home agency’s management directive requiring that all agency employees fully cooperate with OIG reviews.
  • On February 11, 2019, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Oversight Committee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee received a briefing from State OIG regarding Ms. Ciccone’s refusal to submit to State OIG’s interview requests.  State OIG stated that it was in possession of documentary evidence demonstrating Ms. Ciccone’s involvement in personnel actions against at least three career employees, but was unable to complete its review without Ms. Ciccone’s interview. State OIG noted that given her senior position, Ms. Ciccone’s refusal to submit to an interview was “unprecedented.”

According to the a DHS Directive, employees  will —

— be subject to criminal prosecution and disciplinary action, up to and including removal, for knowingly and willfully furnishing false or misleading information to investigating officials;

— be subject to disciplinary action for refusing to provide documents or information or to answer questions posed by investigating officials or to provide a signed sworn statement if requested by the OIG, unless questioned as the subject of an investigation that can lead to criminal prosecution.

What should be most interesting to see is how DHS and Congress will deal with this case. It would send a signal to the rest of the bureaucracy how serious they are in their support of government oversight, and whether or not there are real consequences for failure to cooperate with Inspector General reviews.

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Yo! The Thing. Still Going on in China?

We understand that there are still “a lot of curtailments” continuing out of China even now because “The Thing” is still going on according to a note in our mailbox.

In January 2018, the SFRC’s had a Subcommittee Hearing Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba: Response and Oversight. In September 2018, Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting that the Trump administration provide an unclassified version of the State Department’s recent Accountability Review Board (ARB) report on the incidents affecting the health of U.S. personnel serving in Cuba. We have not been able to locate any congressional oversight hearings on the incident in China.  We don’t know if there is an ARB China. If an ARB was convened on the health attacks in China, there does not appear to be any public notification. 

In late October, an NBC News investigation indicates that US diplomats are concerned that the State Department is down-playing a pattern of what’s been called “health attacks” on diplomatic staff in Cuba and China. (see Is @StateDept Working to Minimize the Health Attacks in China? #Cuba #MissingARBs). If curtailments are still going on, that indicates that USG employees and family members in one of our largest overseas missions remain in harm’s way, so who’s talking about it?  Somebody please ask your friendly senior administration official what are they doing about it. Three years ago, we would have had back to back congressional hearings not just on the Havana Syndrome, but also on the China Syndrome, and on the State Department’s response to these attacks. Can we please have some oversight hearings in January, pretty please?   

Via Giphy

MORE:

This one about Canadian diplomats and their families. G&M reports that  nine Canadian adults and four children have been diagnosed with the brain injuries. “The Canadians who were affected in 2017 are all in Canada and still employed by Global Affairs, although several are unable to work because of their symptoms.”

State/OIG: Sustained Failure of Leadership at the National Passport Center

The National Passport Center is located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. NPC opened in 1992 and this past November, it processed its 100 millionth passport application. Below excerpted from State/OIG’s report,  Targeted Review of Leadership and Management at the National Passport Center:

Backgrounder: NPC, the largest of 29 passport-processing agencies and twice the size of the next largest, issued 7.4 million passports in FY 2017, or 38 percent of all passports issued by the U.S. Government from October 2016 to September 2017. Located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the center was created in 1992, and it grew from 60 employees at its founding to approximately 900 following a 2007 surge in passport demand.

At the time of the inspection, NPC’s staff consisted of a GS-15 Director, 6 GS-14 Assistant Directors, 16 GS-13 Adjudication Managers, and 57 GS-12 Supervisory Passport Specialists who supervised approximately 350 Passport Specialists. Additional staff included Customer Service and Fraud
Prevention employees, Passport Operations Officers, and over 400 contractors who were responsible for passport production and other support services. NPC operates two flexible shifts, which together cover 22 hours per day Monday through Friday. In addition, depending on workload, NPC scheduled overtime shifts on Saturday and Sunday.

Work Environment and CA/PPT Leadership: Senior leaders in CA’s Office of Passport Services (CA/PPT) were aware of concerns regarding NPC’s work environment since at least 2013, when several NPC employees made allegations against NPC leadership. The employees alleged harassment, “bullying,” a lack of trust in leadership, favoritism, abusive behavior to employees, improper hiring procedures, and an overall lack of transparency in the operations of the organization. In response to the allegations, CA/PPT instructed the Director of the Northeast Regional Office, who oversees NPC and other passport agencies, to conduct an internal review of NPC, which he did in January and February 2014. […] To address the internal review’s findings, CA/PPT ordered extensive executive coaching and training for NPC’s Director and senior leaders. The training lasted approximately 2 years and ended in 2016.

How not to solve the problem: OIG also determined that CA/PPT and NPC senior leaders were disengaged and, based on OIG interviews, generally aware of concerns regarding harassment, abuse, and misconduct. During OIG’s review, CA/PPT senior leaders told OIG that they blamed some of the issues at NPC on the fact that employees have known each other for a long time, dismissing the allegations as grudges held from high school and referring to employees as “crusty New Englanders.” CA/PPT’s senior leaders moreover acknowledged inappropriate behavior at NPC, but hoped that “being really busy would solve the problem.”

Being really busy is their hopeful solution? Good lord, who are these people? Are they available to work their magic wand as WH chiefs of staff?

It works! OIG Hotline Complaints: Between February and May 2018, OIG received a series of hotline complaints alleging misconduct, harassment, retaliation, and unfair hiring practices at NPC. […] Hundreds of NPC employees reported to OIG that retaliation, harassment, and “bullying” pervaded the work environment at NPC. OIG found that the reported behavior was widespread and was either condoned or perpetrated by nearly all levels of NPC leadership. Seventeen percent (91) of NPC employees who responded to OIG’s survey reported that they had experienced or observed discrimination and harassment. Of the 156 NPC employees OIG interviewed, 54 (35 percent) stated that they had experienced or observed retaliation, 80 (51 percent) stated that they had experienced or observed harassment, and 61 (39 percent) stated that they had experienced or observed discrimination.

Employees reported to OIG multiple instances of perceived or possible retaliation by Assistant Directors, Adjudication Managers, and other Supervisory Passport Specialists in denying awards, promotions, and special assignments.

Multiple employees reported incidents of sexual and gender-based harassment to OIG, which in some cases, had been ongoing, widely known, and accepted as part of the center’s culture.

Holy Guacamole Alert! NPC’s already problematic workplace environment was exacerbated by the fact that communication was ineffective at all levels within NPC. […] One example of poor communication was the lack of a formal and effective process for explaining and interpreting new guidance with Passport Specialists. When CA/PPT Office of Adjudication (CA/PPT/A) issued new or updated adjudication-specific guidance, its implementation instructions to passport agencies stated that Adjudication Managers must meet with Passport Specialists to discuss the guidance, answer questions, and ensure everyone understands how to implement the new guidance.10 However, NPC’s Adjudication Managers consistently and affirmatively refused to meet with Passport Specialists. 

You read that part above and you think that’s just bonkers. If they’re not meeting regularly to discuss new passport guidance, how would they know if the guidance they have is already outdated?

Security Procedures: In the course of examining the leadership and communication issues described previously, OIG also learned that NPC did not comply with all required Department security procedures. Specifically […] NPC did not follow facility access control measures that govern employee entry and exit, creating an opportunity for individuals without approved access to enter the building.

Admonishment from CA/PPT senior leader and NPC managers: OIG also notes that, after its site visit, a CA/PPT senior leader visited NPC. According to an information memo CA prepared for the Deputy Secretary following the visit, the CA/PPT senior leader communicated  to NPC employees that the Department does not tolerate retaliation. However, OIG subsequently received complaints that CA/PPT senior leaders and NPC managers admonished staff for complaining to and speaking with OIG.

We should note that the OIG report does not include the names of the senior leaders at CA/PPT or the managers at NPC but they’re on LinkedIn, is that right? Please don’t make them lead the Consular Leadership Day festivities next year, hookay?

OBO’s Fire Protection Judgments and @StateDept’s Black Hole of Bureaucratic Shrugger-Swagger

 

We blogged previously about the State/OIG Management Assistance Report sounding the alarm over the fire alarm system at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul (see  U.S. Embassy Kabul: Fire Alarm System Needs Prompt Attention or #MustHaveNoFireBeforeMarch2019

We received a reaction about the OIG report basically saying “hey, I agree with all the violations listed by the OIG”. Our correspondent also thought the “funniest thing” included in the report is that OBO challenged the OIG qualifications. There appears to be serious concerns that sound fire protection engineering judgements are being overridden “on a regular basis.” There are also some questions/allegations about the qualifications of OBO folks making decisions concerning fire protection engineering — that if true, could potentially have serious consequences.

OPM says  that all Professional Engineering positions require a basic degree in engineering or a combination of education and experience — college-level education, training, and/or technical experience that furnished (1) a thorough knowledge of the physical and mathematical sciences underlying engineering, and (2) a good understanding, both theoretical and practical, of the engineering sciences and techniques and their applications to one of the branches of engineering. Also that the adequacy of such background must be demonstrated by one of the following: 1) Professional registration or licensure — Current registration as an Engineer Intern (EI), Engineer in Training (EIT)1, or licensure as a Professional Engineer (PE) by any State, the District of Columbia, Guam, or Puerto Rico. 2) Written Test — Evidence of having successfully passed the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE)2 examination or any other written test required for professional registration by an engineering licensure board in the various States, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Read more here.

In any case, you know that State/PA refused to respond to us during Tillerson’s watch but with Pompeo’s new guards in, we thought we should try asking questions again from its media professionals, coz, why not, hey?

We did receive a PA response months ago that says “we’ll look into it but may not have anything over the weekend”.  Lordy, short weekends and long weekends have come and gone and we have not heard anything back via email, fax, sign language, or telephatic signal.  Our follow-up email appeared to have also ended up in a black hole of bureaucratic shrugger-swagger.

In any case, we’ve addressed the same questions to State/OIG, and those folks reliably read and respond to email inquiries, and we received the following:

Ensuring the safety and security of Department personnel is paramount for the OIG. We give careful consideration to allegations relating to safety and security issues, including the one involving the Office of Fire Protection. Additionally, if anyone becomes aware of something that jeopardizes the safety and security of Department employees, they should report it immediately to the OIG hotline at OIG.state.gov/HOTLINE or at 1-800-409-9926.

About that report, here are a couple of examples that we understand, requires some folks to wear brown paper bags over their heads when reading:

OBO’s Technical Comment 10 | OBO disagreed with OIG’s statement: “According to PAE, a secondary loop was installed. However, rather than being routed separately, the existing fiber optic cables run in a parallel path. Because the fiber optic cables run in the same direction (as opposed to opposite directions representing a redundant circuit), damage to one part of the network can render sections of the network inoperable.” OBO stated that “it is perfectly acceptable for cables to run in the same direction. They cannot run in the same conduit. Additionally, the secondary loop is, in fact, a redundant circuit since there are two paths of travel one from the original loop and one from the secondary loop.”

OIG’s Reply | OIG agrees that cables can run in the same direction but cannot run in the same conduit. OIG found, however, that a number of the runs currently installed at Embassy Kabul did, in fact, have fiber optic cables bundled together in the same conduit. The photo below shows the current configuration at Embassy Kabul in which fiber optic cables are bundled together in the same conduit. This is contrary to NFPA standards for a redundant path. OIG made no changes to the report on the basis of this comment.

TA-DAA! Somebody stop these wild cables from running in the same conduit!

 

OBO’s Technical Comment 13 | OBO disagreed with OIG’s conclusion that “the improper installation of key components of Embassy Kabul’s fire alarm system needs immediate attention because of the potential safety risk to personnel and property.” OBO stated that it disagreed with OIG’s underlying assumptions and that OIG’s scope contained flaws.

OIG’s Reply | As set forth in this report, OBO is not in compliance with NFPA 72 regarding the requirement for a redundant path. In addition, a number of the runs currently installed at Embassy Kabul have fiber optic cables bundled together in the same conduit, which similarly fails to comply with NFPA 72. The NFPA codes and standards are designed to minimize the risk and effects of fire by establishing criteria for building, processing, design, service, and installation around the world. Failure to adhere to these requirements thus presents potential risk to embassy personnel and property. Therefore, the improper installation of key components of Embassy Kabul’s fire alarm system requires immediate attention. OIG made no changes to the report on the basis of this comment.

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Whistleblower Protection Memo – How Useless Are You, Really?

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.

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USG-Funded Radio Televisión Martí Targets American Philanthropist George Soros

 

On October 26, Mother Jones reported that Radio Televisión Martí went after George Soros in a two-part piece that aired in May 2018. The hit piece called the philanthropist a “multimillionaire Jew” and “the architect of the financial collapse of 2008.” The Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) oversees Radio and Television Martí at its headquarters in Miami.  The U.S. Agency for Global Media (formerly BBG), a U.S. taxpayer-funded entity oversees OCB.  The videos have been taken down but are still available on YouTube here and here.  The State Department’s Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs serves as the Secretary of State’s representative on the Board.  Heather Nauert became Acting Under Secretary on March 13, 2018 until October 10. 2018. As of this writing, we have not seen anything out of the State Department regarding these segments targeting a private American citizen.

On October 29, CEO John Lansing who joined BBG in 2015 released a statement that says in part the following:

“It was brought to my attention this weekend that the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), which is overseen by the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), earlier this year aired a video segment about George Soros that is inconsistent with our professional standards and ethics. USAGM networks’ content is required to adhere to the highest standards of professional journalism.

Those deemed responsible for this production will be immediately placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into their apparent misconduct. Disciplinary action appropriate under federal law may then be proposed, including the potential removal of those responsible, depending on the outcome of that investigation.

Via MJ:

Tomás P. Regalado, the director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, told Mother Jones in an email, “Judicial Watch is a good source, but having said that, it should not have been the only source. The two part series was not precise and did not have on the record sources to balance the story.” Regalado noted that he became OCB director on June 6, several weeks after the segment aired, and three days later he appointed a new news director and assignment editor.

“To be fair and to show that we in the new administration are committed to journalistic integrity, the stories have been pulled out of the digital page, not because we want to hide anything, but because we want to be transparent if we say that the story did not have the required balance, then it should not be on the air,” he said.

Holy guacamole! Senator Flake tweeted “TV Marti director says its program on George Soros lacked “balance.” Sorry, there is no balance that makes anti-Semitism right. BBG must investigate how such programming was produced and and why it aired.”

OCB has an annual budget of $28.1 million, it has 117 employees, and an audience estimated at 1 million.

AND NOW THIS —

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FSJ: MED’s Focus on Clearances and Restricting Access to SNEA #NotSupportForFamilies

We’ve blogged previously about the problems encountered by Foreign Service families with the State Department’s Bureau of Medical Services (see StateDept’s MED Services Drive Employees with Special Needs #FSKids Nuts; Also @StateDept’s Blackhole of Pain Inside the Bureau of Medical Services (MED). The latest issue of the Foreign Service Journal features a piece by James Brush who previously worked as a child psychologist at the State Department.

Via FSJ: James Brush, Ph.D., is a child and adolescent psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C. He worked at the State Department as a child psychologist with the Child and Family Program division of MED Mental Health from January 2013 through March 2016. Prior to his work at State, he had a private practice in Cincinnati, Ohio, for 26 years. A past president of the Ohio Psychological Association, he continues to be involved as a committee chair. 

Below is an excerpt from The Demise of MED’s Child and Family Program (FSJ)

The Child and Family Program within the Bureau of Medical Services’ Mental Health program was constituted in 2013, when the full team was finally in place after years of planning. I was brought onto the team as one of two child psychologists. By March, we had on board a child psychiatrist director, two child psychologists and three clinical social workers who had experience in treating and managing the needs of children and adolescents.

I was on the ground floor of this program, and our mission was both exciting and challenging. This was the first extensive effort within the State Department to support the specific mental health and developmental needs of children, adolescents and their families living abroad.
[…]
By 2015, three of the psychiatrists who were opposed to the CFP functioning as a comprehensive support program ended up having leadership roles in MED. Dr. Stephen Young took over as the director of mental health. Dr. Kathy Gallardo took over as deputy director of mental health, and Dr. Aleen Grabow was brought in as a child psychiatric consultant. Together, they worked toward limiting the scope of the CFP, limiting the SNEA program and reducing the opportunities for families with disabled children through more restrictive use of child mental health clearances.

Within a year of their tenure in leadership, we lost our child psychiatrist director, the two child psychologists and one clinical social worker. I and the other providers left because Drs. Young and Gallardo changed the mission and scope of the CFP. It became an unpleasant place in which to work, with the emphasis being on clearances and restricting access to SNEA. Support for families was no longer the focus. Rather, support services were being cut and the clearance process was being used to restrict the opportunities of those with disabled children.

The program is now a skeleton of what it was previously, with only one social worker, one child psychologist and one retired Foreign Service psychiatrist. Telemedicine is forbidden. The program now basically performs an administrative function, processing clearances and SNEA requests.

Read the entire piece here.

We understand that State/OIG is aware of some allegations related to the special needs education allowance (SNEA) and is doing “exploratory work”. Well, Dr. Brush’s account should be instructive.  This is not one of the employees battling the bureaucracy on behalf of their children, this is one of the people who used to work at MED.

While we might be tempted to think that the troubling response could be some form of retaliation for blowing this issue up in the media, it is hard to imagine that MED’s policy and focus on restricting access to SNEA and the medical clearance do not have the full blessings of the State Department leadership all the way to the 7th Floor. After all, if State really wanted to resolve these cases, it would have worked with these FS families to accommodate their needs, avoid forcing people into taking loans to pay/repay for special ed needs expenses, and it would have afforded families an appeals process (IT. DOESN’T).

And they certainly would not/not have threatened people who pursue this issue, right? RIGHT?

Perhaps, this is what they mean when they talk about the new Department of Swagger? Take it or leave?

(Thought bubble: How long before the proponents of this policy get promotions, Superior Honor Awards or Presidential Rank Awards?)

While the State Department has lifted the hiring freeze, and the A-100 classes are no longer on a hit and miss schedule, it is not clear to us what the new secretary of state’s position on the previously planned 8% shrinkage of the agency workforce. If that was a WH imperative as opposed to Tillerson’s, it would be hard to imagine Secretary Pompeo going against it.

The CRS report on the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs: FY2019 Budget and Appropriations dated April 18, 2018 and updated on August 9, 2018 notes the following:

The Department of State released guidance in May 2018 lifting the hiring freeze and allowing the department to increase staffing to December 31, 2017, levels. Subsequent press reports indicate that the department intends to hire 454 new employees beyond end of year 2017 levels but also suggest that hiring must be circumscribed by previous commitments former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made to reduce its workforce by 8%.

So this brings us to the “take it or leave” scenario for FS employees with special needs children. Since these kids are given limited medical clearances with no appeals (which precludes most if not all overseas assignments), Foreign Service families will be forced to serve either in domestic assignments in order to stay together; serve separately with employees going overseas, while their families stay in the United States, or employees may opt to pay everything out of pocket and not ask for SNEA to avoid getting snared in MED’s clutches.

Begs the questions: 1) How many career employees would stay on when their employer talk the talk about supporting FS families but know it’s just a gum chewing exercise? And 2)  Is this what a slow walk to 8% looks like??

By the way, if there’s an alternate reasonable explanation for all this that does not require our relocation to the parallel universe, Earth, Too, send us an email, we’d love a good chat.

 

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