Workplace Horror Award Goes to the IO Bureau, @StateDept Offers Counseling in Uppercase Voice

 

Where do you even start with this bonkers IO report from the State Department Inspector General? Congrats?
Well, then, felicitations and congratulations to the Bureau of International Organization Affairs and its leadership for getting the Workplace Horror Award!
Given the lack of meaningful action from the 7th Floor following this report, perhaps we should borrow Secretary Pompeo’s “Miles With Mike” signoff and send “Keep crushing it!” wishes to everyone, too.
Bear it, and swagger, there’s an Ethos Award at the end of the rainbow.
But really, Secretary Pompeo should stop talking about his professional ethos initiative because, to put it mildly, this report ruins it loudly, particularly the parts about showing “unstinting respect in word and deed for my colleagues and all who serve alongside me” and taking “ownership of and responsibility” of something, something stuff.
As Nero Wolfe would say, “Pfui!”

Short Take: BAD, ALL CAPS

Update at 10:08 am: Added the DOS swagger seal

 State/OIG began this review in July 2018 by examining whether the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO) officials had acted improperly toward career officials on the basis of their perceived political or ideological views.
Just reading the report makes us want to drown our sorrows in vats of grapes, wine, rum, etc.,  Don’t worry, we’re allergic to alcohol but if we could, we would. This is painful to read, but can you imagine the people living through this?
Has anyone heard from AFSA?
Read the full report here.  A few excerpts below:

“OIG found evidence of leadership and management deficiencies and mistreatment of career employees in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO). These inappropriate practices included disrespectful and hostile treatment of employees, accusations against and harassment of career employees premised on claims that they were “disloyal” based on their perceived political views, and retaliation associated with conflicts of interest. OIG also found that numerous employees raised concerns about the IO leadership to Department management officials outside of IO and that Department officials counseled IO leadership; however, the Assistant Secretary for IO, Kevin Moley, did not take significant action to respond to such concerns.

During the course of this review, OIG received allegations that two personnel actions were undertaken by IO leadership for improper motives: the removal of the IO Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS), a career senior foreign service officer, and the cancellation of the selection process for a career position in the IO Office of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. OIG found evidence that both actions by IO leadership were likely based on non-merit factors and thus violated Department policy.”

Staff Departures Set a Record in Our Books

Approximately 50 of 300 domestic IO employees have departed IO! Darnit, that’s quite a record that will be in our books for quite a while. Well, actually, maybe in our books until we see the next IG report focused on the Secretary’s office. That could be record-breaking, too, in terms of how many people departed the State Department starting at the dawn of Tillerson’s tenure. Alas, we’d also like to know who did what to whom, to the Senate-confirmed DGHR and others, who thought it was a great idea to double the stress and double the fun at the Ops Center, and other stuff… we can wait.

“In 2018, IO had 239 civil service positions and 71 domestic Foreign Service positions. Assistant Secretary Moley began his tenure in IO in April 2018. The IO Bureau also has four Deputy Assistant Secretary positions, one of which is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS). In April 2018, all Deputy Assistant Secretary positions were held by career employees. During Assistant Secretary Moley’s tenure, three individuals have served as PDAS: the first, whose reassignment is described on page 14 below, served until June 2018; the second served from August to October 2018; and the third has served since November 2018.
[…]
Approximately 50 of 300 domestic IO employees have departed IO since Assistant Secretary Moley took over its leadership, and nearly all of the former employees who OIG interviewed stated that poor leadership of the bureau contributed to their decision to depart.”

 

When the OIG Rings the Fire Alarm and …

Image via Giphy

The OIG report paints in great details the leadership deficiencies and mistreatment of career employees; the disrespectful and hostile treatment of employees; the unmerited accusations of disloyalty and harassment based on perceived political views; retaliation based upon conflicts of interest; and failure of bureau leadership to respond to concerns expressed by employees, and expressed by Department management.

“OIG found significant evidence of systemic deficiencies in leadership and management relating to the treatment of career employees, as well as evidence that non-merit-based considerations played a role in at least two personnel decisions. Several employees raised concerns relating to disrespectful and hostile treatment of staff, inappropriate accusations of disloyalty and harassment of employees based on perceived political views, and retaliation based on conflicts of interest. Furthermore, despite being counseled by Department management regarding some of these issues, IO leadership has not adequately addressed these concerns. Such conduct conflicts with the Department’s leadership principles, which set expectations that its management will strive for a collaborative, respectful, and inclusive workplace. Moreover, these failures of leadership have led to serious morale problems in IO and to the departure of a significant number of career staff. OIG encourages the Department to take action to address these concerns promptly.”

On the two personnel actions undertaken by Assistant Secretary Moley and Ms. Stull, the OIG report notes the following:

“The circumstances of Assistant Secretary Moley’s removal of the PDAS suggests that he undertook a personnel action based on non-merit factors, namely, her articulation of concerns about Ms. Stull’s conduct. In addition, her removal raises questions regarding compliance with the Department’s non-retaliation policy because the concerns that she brought to Assistant Secretary Moley, Under Secretary Shannon, and Deputy Secretary Sullivan could evidence the violation of a law, rule, or regulation.
[…]
Ms. Stull’s instruction to the human resources officials that future vacancies reflect the President’s agenda and beliefs was inappropriate for career positions and reflects an intent to introduce non-merit factors into the IO hiring process. Based on this evidence, Assistant Secretary Moley and Ms. Stull appear to have violated Department prohibitions on using non-merit factors in personnel assignments.

The State Department Passes the Buck ..er Alarm

The OIG made two recommendations to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs: to develop a corrective action plan to address the leadership and management deficiencies within the Bureau of International Organization Affairs and to consider other appropriate action, including disciplinary action. The Department concurred with both recommendations.
Now for the funny part (but don’t laugh).
The State Department told the OIG that “The Department noted that two IO officials are named in the report, but one of them is no longer employed by the Department and therefore not subject to any disciplinary action. The remaining official has already been counseled regarding his leadership, and the Department will consider additional discipline based on OIG’s “assessment” of the response from Assistant Secretary Moley.”
Oh, dahrlings, the State Department wants the IG to do the Department’s job! Looks like the decision on what to do with IO is beyond OIG, or “P” or “M” or “D” but sits on Secretary Pompeo’s desk.
Also how soon before we’re going to start seeing this case  as a comparator in grievance cases? “I only screamed once and I apologized, and two people curtailed from post during my tenure. The proposal to suspend me for three days is not fair given similar cases at the agency. For example, the IG report on IO …” or something like that…

Yes, Your Concerns Are Pointless: True as the Sky is Blue

(and the State Department Offers More Counseling)

Below excerpted from the OIG report:
  • [I]n his interview with OIG, Assistant Secretary Moley was dismissive of the counseling he received from senior Department leaders. He cited other senior government positions he held in the past and expressed his opinion that individuals such as Acting Director General Todd were in no position to give him advice.
  • On June 25, 2018, Deputy Secretary John Sullivan met with Assistant Secretary Moley to discuss the comments and the general atmosphere in IO. According to Deputy Secretary Sullivan, Assistant Secretary Moley responded that IO employees were misinterpreting his and Ms. Stull’s actions and were over-reacting. Also, on June 25, Deputy Secretary Sullivan and then-Legal Adviser Jennifer Newstead counseled Ms. Stull on her treatment of employees.
  • Despite these counseling efforts, multiple witnesses told OIG that the hostile treatment and other conduct described above continued into the fall of 2018, and some of the notable examples described above occurred after Assistant Secretary Moley’s June 2018 meeting with the Deputy Secretary.
  • Several employees told OIG that they approached the Assistant Secretary at various times with concerns about treatment of employees and management of the bureau. These employees consistently reported to OIG that Assistant Secretary Moley reacted negatively when employees brought concerns to him and that, rather than addressing the issue directly, he tended to minimize the concern or place blame on others.
  • Similarly, when individuals raised concerns with Ms. Stull about her treatment of employees, she asserted that she was herself the victim of harassment and informed at least one employee that raising such concerns was pointless because the Trump administration “has my back.”
  • Beginning in late April 2018, a succession of increasingly more senior Department officials shared concerns they had received regarding the leadership and management of IO directly with Assistant Secretary Moley. However, OIG found that Assistant Secretary Moley did not undertake any meaningful efforts to address these concerns. Furthermore, in the course of this review, OIG continued to receive accounts of the same type of conduct against which the Assistant Secretary had been counseled, such as hostile treatment of employees, allegations of disloyalty, and conflicts of interest.
  • Then-Under Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon met with Assistant Secretary Moley to discuss concerns about management of the bureau that Under Secretary Shannon had heard from several IO employees. Under Secretary Shannon told OIG that he reminded Assistant Secretary Moley that his first responsibility is to the Secretary and that he put himself at risk by not exercising leadership and granting Ms. Stull an “unprecedented level of independence” to manage the bureau, especially during the critical period before UNGA. Under Secretary Shannon advised against managing the bureau by intimidating staff and questioning their loyalties.
  • On June 13, 2018, Acting Under Secretary Mull contacted Assistant Secretary Moley and recounted these concerns, including an email exchange that the Assistant Secretary had with a junior desk officer,30 the reported imminent departure of several members of IO’s senior staff, and general reports that he was “targeting” career civil service and Foreign Service officers. Acting Under Secretary Mull advised Assistant Secretary Moley that such reports were “embarrassing” to the Secretary and ran counter to his priority of lifting morale and forging a better sense of teamwork. Acting Under Secretary Mull directed him to take several steps [snip].

Quick Test: Compare and Contrast

Via Imgur

We should note that former S/P Kiron Skinner who was reportedly fired for her “abusive” management style did not oversee close to 300 people but a couple dozens (see @StateDept Policy Planning’s Kiron Skinner Reportedly Out Over “Abusive” Management Style).  Not to minimized the issues at S/P where some staffers reportedly left and five more threatened to quit according to Politico, that’s still less than the approximately 50 departures  cited by OIG from the IO bureau.  Good grief!
Yes, we are pointing out that the State Department is inviting criticism of contrasting treatment between these two offices: one managed by an African-American woman who was reportedly fired amidst allegations of bad management (but no IG investigation), and another managed by a white American male who was given repeated counseling amidst allegations of bad management and mass staff departures (despite an IG investigation). Any “unusually candid” official out there willing to explain this, we’re all ears.

 

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@StateDept Bureau Junks Professional Ethos Big Time (Who Wanna Tell Mike?)

 

 

I am a champion of American diplomacy.

My colleagues and I proudly serve the United States
and the American people at the Department of State,
America’s first executive department.

We support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

We protect the American people and promote their interests and
values around the world by leading our nation’s foreign policy.

As a member of this team, I serve with unfailing professionalism
in both my demeanor and my actions, even in the face of adversity.

I act with uncompromising personal and professional integrity.

I take ownership of and responsibility for my actions and decisions.

And I show unstinting respect in word and deed for my colleagues
and all who serve alongside me.

Together, we are the United States Department of State.

 

 

GAO to @StateDept: Psst! Leadership Attention and Focus, Please!

 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its report  on Tillerson’s redesign projects (although those projects were no longer called that).  GAO looked into the status of the reform efforts that the State Department reported to Congress in February 2018 and also looked at the extent to which State addressed key practices critical to the successful implementation of agency reform efforts.
GAO has determined that “State leadership has not provided the focus necessary to support the officials responsible for implementing all these reform projects.”
Uh-oh! Some excerpts below.

Remember the Listening Tour?

In response to the March 2017 Executive Order 13781 and the ensuing OMB memo, State launched a “listening tour” intended to gather ideas and feedback from State and USAID employees. As a key component of this outreach effort, State hired a contractor to design and administer a confidential online survey, which was sent to all State and USAID employees in May 2017. According to the contractor’s report, the survey had a 43 percent response rate, with 27,837 State employees and 6,142 USAID employees responding to the survey. The contractor also conducted in-person interviews with a randomly selected cross section of personnel, which included 175 employees from State and 94 from USAID.

17 Reform Projects Plus

The planning teams developed specific reform projects, listed below in table 2 (17 reform projects, see page7-8 of report), which State described in the fiscal year 2019 budget justification it submitted to Congress in February 2018.9  According to implementing officials, all these projects predated the Executive Order and OMB memo issued in the spring of 2017. They also noted, however, that the administration’s reform-related directives helped advance State’s preexisting efforts by focusing management attention and agency resources on these projects.  (9 In addition to these reform projects, State’s Congressional Budget Justification also reported seven changes related to its reform efforts that are complete or underway. State reported that it is (1) expanding employment opportunities for eligible family members; (2) implementing cloud-based email and collaboration; (3) increasing flexibilities for employees on medical evacuations; (4) streamlining the security clearance process; (5) simplifying the permanent change-of-station travel process; (6) improving temporary duty travel options and experience; and (7) integrating USAID and State global address lists.

Status: Completed-1, Continuing-13, Stalled-2, Discontinued-1

As of April 2019, according to State officials and status reports, State had completed one of its 17 reform projects; 13 projects were continuing; two projects were stalled pending future decisions or actions; and one project was discontinued.
[…]
According to State officials, as of April 2019, although 13 of the reform projects described in the fiscal year 2019 Congressional Budget Justification were considered by State to be continuing, some had been scaled back, slowed down, or both as a result of senior leadership’s shifting priorities and attention.

Leadership Focus and Attention

In February 2018, State reported to  Congress in its fiscal year 2019 budget justification that it was pursuing the reform projects we described above. In March 2018, the first transition affecting the implementation of those projects occurred when the President removed the then Secretary of State and nominated the then CIA director to replace him; in April 2018, the Senate confirmed the current Secretary. According to senior State officials, when the new Secretary took office, his top priority was ending the hiring freeze and restarting a concerted recruitment effort because vacancies in key positions and a general staffing shortfall would otherwise have led to what one senior official described as a “cataclysmic failure” at State. These senior officials noted that the new Secretary decided some of the existing reform projects were not well designed and that he wanted greater emphasis on cybersecurity and data analytics. They said he also wanted to pursue other initiatives, including a new proposal to create a Global Public Affairs Bureau by merging two existing bureaus. The senior officials told us that the Secretary authorized responsible bureaus and offices to determine whether to continue, revise, or terminate existing reform efforts or launch new initiatives. However, State did not formally communicate other changes in its reform priorities to Congress, such as its plan to no longer combine State and USAID’s real property offices.
[…]
State initiated another transition in leadership of the reform efforts in April 2018 when it disbanded the dedicated planning teams overseeing the reform efforts and delegated responsibility for implementing the reform projects to relevant bureaus and offices. As the planning teams finished working on their particular reform efforts and prepared to transfer these projects to the bureaus, some planning teams provided memos and reports on the status of their efforts and offered recommendations for the bureaus to consider when determining next steps in implementing the projects. Some implementing officials, however, reported that they received little or no direction regarding their projects or any other indication of continued interest in their project from department or bureau leadership aside from the initial notification that the project had been assigned to them.
[…]
Various State officials noted that the prolonged absence of Senate confirmed leadership in key positions posed additional challenges. We have previously testified that it is more difficult to obtain buy-in on longterm plans and efforts that are underway when an agency has leaders in acting positions because federal employees are historically skeptical of whether the latest efforts to make improvements are going to be sustained over a period of time

Leadership Transition Effects:

Taken together, the leadership transitions at State had two significant effects on State’s reform efforts. First, the transition of departmental leadership and lack of direction and communication about subsequent changes in leadership’s priorities contributed to uncertainty among implementing officials about the future of individual reform projects. Second, according to implementing officials, the transition of project responsibility from dedicated teams to bureau-level implementing officials resulted in fewer resources and a lack of senior leadership involvement and attention for some projects. Absent leadership decisions, implementing officials will continue to struggle with understanding leadership priorities with regard to State’s reform efforts. Similarly, for any projects that are determined to be leadership priorities, day-to-day implementation activities will continue to be hampered by the lack of a dedicated team to guide and manage the agency’s overall reform effort.

Don’t Forget USAID: Continuing Projects? Where? What?
GAO has not made any recommendations to USAID and yet, the agency has submitted a written response to highlight the State Department’s unwillingness to coordinate with them. What’s this about? (see Appendix III-Comments from the U.S. Agency for International Development – PDF/page25-26):

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State Department Official Patricia DeLaughter Pleads Guilty to Procurement Fraud

 

On August 9, 2019, USDOJ announced that State Department employee, Patricia DeLaughter pled guilty to disclosing confidential State Department bid proposals n an effort to help a furniture company executive win a lucrative government contract. Sentencing is scheduled for November 8, 2019.

Photo via State Magazine, April 2009

Via USDOJ: State Department Official Pleads Guilty to Procurement Fraud

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A Washington, D.C., woman pleaded guilty today to disclosing confidential State Department bid proposals in an effort to help a furniture company executive win a lucrative government contract to provide furniture to a United States embassy abroad.

According to court documents, Patricia DeLaughter, 69, was a State Department official who was responsible for procuring furniture for United States embassies. In or around December 2016, the State Department was constructing a new embassy in a foreign nation. DeLaughter and another Department official participated in the process of soliciting bid proposals from contractors for the procurement of furniture for the new embassy’s offices.

From in or around December 2016 to in or around March 2017, DeLaughter and the other State Department official knowingly disclosed to Steven Anstine, the vice president of sales for an American furniture manufacturer, the confidential bid prices and design plans of at least three of Anstine’s competitors. DeLaughter knowingly disclosed this information in order to give Anstine—with whom DeLaughter had a social relationship—a competitive advantage in securing the procurement contract for the new embassy. The information that DeLaughter and her coworker gave Anstine enabled him and his company to win the contract with a bid of approximately $1.56 million.

According to DeLaughter’s admissions, DeLaughter made intentionally false statements to agents investigating her conduct. She falsely told State Department Office of Inspector General special agents that she had nothing to do with the embassy furniture project. She also falsely told the agents that she did not have a social relationship with Anstine. In fact, DeLaughter and Anstine had a social relationship and attended dinners, sporting events, and concerts together. Anstine paid at least a portion of DeLaughter’s expenses for these events.

In June 2019, Anstine pleaded guilty to one count of illegally obtaining contractor bid or proposal information in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.

DeLaughter pleaded guilty to one count of illegally disclosing contractor bid or proposal information and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison when sentenced on November 8. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Brian A. Benczkowski, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the Department of State, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. accepted the plea. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell L. Carlberg, Deputy Chief Robert J. Heberle and Trial Attorney John P. Taddei of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section are prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:19-cr-205.

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Delayed Report Over Retaliation Against @StateDept Career Staffers Heats Up

 

In September 2018, we blogged about State/OIG and the Office of Special Counsel looking into political reprisals at the State Department (See State/OIG and OSC Reportedly Looking Into Political Reprisals @StateDept); Office of Special Counsel on Political Inquiries/Political Discrimination During Reassignments).
Via Politico:

The probe is expected to cover a wide array of suspected mistreatment of Foreign Service and Civil Service officers by Trump political appointees. The majority of the alleged improprieties are thought to have occurred under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but the accused include some political appointees who also served under Pompeo.

Among the allegations: that a political appointee made loyalty lists of career staffers she considered supportive or unsupportive of Trump; that numerous career employees, including high-ranking ones, were given low-level duties processing Freedom of Information Act requests to punish them for work they did under former President Barack Obama; and that one career staffer’s assignment to a top policy post was cut short because of her Iranian ancestry and her work on the Iran nuclear deal.

Revelations that outside conservative figures, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, may have played a role in targeting career staffers have fueled the anticipation of Linick’s findings.

Originally, one major report was expected, but Linick has said he decided to split it into two. The first will cover dysfunction in the State bureau that deals with international organizations. The second will cover the actions of top officials who report directly to the secretary.

We’ve asked State/OIG about this and here’s what the office told us:
“We submitted the draft report to the Department in July. As is always the case, we have given the Department the opportunity to submit a response to the report, and the Department has informed us that it wishes to do so. We have granted the Department’s request for two extensions for this report, and its response is due this week. We regularly grant extensions because, if at all possible, we believe that it is important to have the Department’s response to our conclusions. We anticipate publishing the report this month.”

 

Snapshot: @StateDept’s Redesign Timeline and USAID’s Suspended Cooperation

 

 

 

State and USAID submitted a joint reform plan to OMB in September 2017. According to USAID documents, USAID suspended its coordination with State in January 2018 because State could not articulate the objectives for the joint reform effort. GAO has ongoing work reviewing the status of USAID’s reform efforts.

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U.S. Embassy Nassau: Aging Facility, Staffing Gaps, Curtailments, Morale Issues, and More in Sunny Bahamas

 

In 2012, State/OIG did an inspection of the US Embassy in Nassau, The Bahamas (see US Embassy Nassau: Where Absence Makes the Heart Not/Not Grow Fonder); State/OIG Nassau Report: What’s taking them so long?
The new inspection dated August 2019 reveals that the aging facility which was supposed to have been replaced in 2016 is still aging. The IG report now says that construction of a new chancery building is scheduled to begin in 2019 and be completed in 2021 on property purchased by the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO).
The State Department announced on February 1, 2019 that it has awarded the Design-Build contract for the new U.S. Embassy in Nassau to Caddell Construction Co., LLC of Montgomery, Alabama. Ennead Architects of New York, New York is the design architect for the project and Integrus Architecture of Spokane, Washington is the architect of record.
The report notes that the embassy had been without a permanent, confirmed ambassador since November 2011, when the incumbent, a political appointee, resigned. Her replacement was never confirmed, and, at the time of the inspection, the current nominee had been awaiting confirmation since 2017.
In May 2017, the WH announced the president’s intent to nominate Doug Manchester to be his ambassador to the Bahamas. His nomination was cleared by the SFRC in the fall of 2017 but failed to make it to the full Senate. His nomination was resubmitted in January 2018 and again in January 2019. The SFRC has held hearings on June 20, 2019. According to congress.gov, this nomination remains pending at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

 

Below via State/OIG:
  • Embassy Nassau is located in an aging facility originally leased by the Department of State (Department) in 1973 and purchased outright in 1994. Construction of a new chancery building is scheduled to begin in 2019 and be completed in 2021 on property purchased by the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO).
  • A related classified inspection report discusses the embassy’s security program and issues affecting the safety of mission personnel and facilities.
  • At the time of the inspection, the embassy had 143 authorized U.S. staff positions, 2 eligible family members, and 76 locally employed (LE) staff members. The embassy houses 11 different U.S. Government agencies and sub-agencies. Embassy Nassau also provides International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS)1 administrative and logistical support to U.S. Government agencies on Grand Bahama Island, Great Inagua Island, Andros Island, Great Exuma Island, and in Turks and Caicos.

Yay! Sections

  • The Chargé and, beginning in October 2018, the acting DCM carried out regular reviews of the Consular Section chief’s nonimmigrant visa adjudications, as required by 9 FAM 403.9-2d and 9 FAM 403.10-3d.
  • The Consular Section chief, who arrived in August 2017, demonstrated strong leadership in developing standard operating procedures, mentoring three First- and Second-Tour officers, and preparing for future hurricanes. OIG determined that the embassy’s consular programs generally complied with guidance in 7 FAM, 9 FAM, 7 FAH, applicable statutes, and other Department policies.
  • Embassy Nassau’s American citizen services workload consisted primarily of processing emergency passports. Nassau hosts up to six cruise ships from the United States per day with approximately 3,000 passengers each, the majority of whom are U.S. citizens. Passengers who missed their ships’ return to Florida contributed to the more than 400 emergency passports Embassy Nassau issued in FY 2018.
  • OIG determined that the Chargé and the acting DCM conducted their security responsibilities in accordance with 12 Foreign Affairs Handbook (FAH)-1 H-721[…] Shortly after her arrival, the Chargé reviewed, revised, and reissued all security directives, including one to all personnel under chief of mission authority mandating participation in the weekly checks of the emergency and evacuation radio network. In addition, she emphasized to staff that she expected full participation in the radio checks. Participation rates increased from 20 percent in spring 2018 to almost 90 percent by October of that year.
  • The Chargé successfully oversaw the embassy’s First- and Second-Tour employee development program for five officers and specialists, as directed by 3 FAM 2242.4. Participants commented favorably on the Chargé’s involvement in the program.

Oh, Yow! Sections

Via reactiongifs.com

Lengthy Gaps in Key Leadership Positions Hampered Operations

Embassy Nassau faced significant operational challenges due to lengthy staffing gaps in three key leadership positions: ambassador, DCM, and management officer. The embassy had been without a permanent, confirmed ambassador since November 2011, when the incumbent, a political appointee, resigned. Her replacement was never confirmed, and, at the time of the inspection, the current nominee had been awaiting confirmation since 2017. As a result, three different long-term Chargés have led the embassy since 2011. The current Chargé arrived in March 2018. Additionally, because the embassy’s DCMs have served as Chargé, it has also had a series of acting DCMs. The current acting DCM arrived in June 2016 as the INL Director and assumed the collateral duties of acting DCM in June 2018. As a result, like previous acting DCMs, she shouldered two sets of responsibilities. Finally, due to a series of curtailments in the management officer position, from 2014 to September 2018, the management section had relied on nine temporary duty officers as well as support from the Florida Regional Center.

OIG found that the lack of consistent leadership in the ambassador, DCM, and management officer positions, combined with a series of section heads covering two positions at once for long periods of time, led to serious internal control deficiencies and morale issues, as detailed later in this report. The newly assigned Management Officer arrived in September 2018 and started addressing the embassy’s internal control deficiencies, lack of procedures, and outdated policies. However, the current Front Office structure continued to place undue burdens on both the Chargé and the acting DCM, making it impossible for them to perform all of their required functions.

Internal control deficiencies

During the inspection, OIG identified numerous internal control deficiencies and vulnerabilities in the Management and Information Management Sections. The lengthy staffing gaps in key leadership positions exacerbated many of these issues, particularly those detailed in the Resource Management section of this report.

Management Section operations and oversight suffered as a result of staffing gaps due to two previous curtailments in the management officer position. Since 2014, the embassy had relied on a succession of nine temporary-duty management officers. Additionally, from 2014 to 2018, both the embassy and the management support structure at the Florida Regional Center experienced high turnover of staff.

Embassy Nassau did not have internal controls in place to ensure maintenance and repair charges for its vehicle fleet were properly recorded and monitored, increasing the risk of fraud. OIG’s review of maintenance logs and procurement orders found that in FY 2017 and FY 2018, the embassy spent $244,533 on maintenance and repairs but did not keep records to document that the work was necessary or was actually completed.

INL’s $17.8 million foreign assistance with no formal evaluation

INL has supported Bahamian law enforcement since 1978, including committing $17.8 million in foreign assistance since 2010. […] INL Nassau lacked appropriate metrics to monitor progress for its four law enforcement and judicial assistance projects. Specifically, OIG found that project metrics had not been updated since at least 2014 and were outdated. Furthermore, INL Nassau did not formally evaluate project progress on a quarterly basis, as required by INL guidance.7 INL Nassau told OIG that it informally reported project progress on a quarterly basis but was unaware of the requirement to formally track and monitor project progress against established metrics. Without current metrics for its projects, the embassy cannot measure progress and performance against the embassy’s ICS goals and INL’s strategic planning objectives.

Intranet woes, and WHA the hey?

Embassy Nassau’s intranet network faced critical processing delays and frequent variations in processing speed due to internal IT infrastructure issues. The May 2017 Bureau of Diplomatic Security CSA report also identified this severe network performance deficiency and recommended that the embassy work with the Department and the Regional Information Management Center in Ft. Lauderdale to resolve the issue. In August 2017, a regional center network technician performed a limited service repair to the network infrastructure but did not complete all needed repairs. Embassy staff told OIG that despite repeated embassy requests, WHA had yet to provide the additional Regional Information Management Center technical support to complete the work.

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@StateDept’s Protocol Chief Sean Lawler to Quit Before G-20 Summit #horsewhip #wherearethehorses

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Sean Lawler who was sworn in as Chief of Protocol of the United States, with rank of Ambassador on December 1, 2017 is reportedly resigning over allegations of discrimination and harassment. Bloomberg is reporting that he was pulled off AF1 manifest after his staff complained of intimidating behavior, including reportedly, carrying a horsewhip in the office.

Whoa! There are hidden horses  in Foggy Bottom that need whipping?

Folks are understandably confused. “Wait a minute. Is this right? The dude is carrying around a horse whip on the job?” Or “Wait. Carrying a horsewhip ISN’T protocol?” Or “What, exactly, is the utility of a horsewhip in matters of protocol?” One HR person who isn’t confused notes: “If your manager has a horsewhip in his office & you don’t work with horses… maybe you’re in a less-than-stellar work environment.”

An aside — horsewhip is word of the day for a bunch of folks online.  And come to think of it, what the HR person wrote made sense. This would be challenging when the Best Places to Work ranking comes around next year. The 2018 ranking, by the way, is roaring red and down -3.3 points, comparable only to the State Department’s ranking in 2003.

Anyway, Lawler who was nominated in September 2017 will reportedly resign. As of this writing, his bio is still prominently displayed on state.gov.

NBC’s Josh Lederman reports that “Two U.S. officials said that employees in the chief of protocol’s office had been informed that Ambassador Sean Lawler had been suspended indefinitely pending the outcome of the investigation. A third official said that Lawler had told the State Department’s leadership he planned to submit his resignation to President Donald Trump after the G-20 summit, which starts Friday in Osaka, Japan.”  The U.S. officials who told NBC News about Lawler’s situation reportedly declined to elaborate on the specifics of the allegations, but did say that “numerous employees in his office had resigned in protest of his management and behavior.”

These media reports follow the most recent IG report on the toxic workplace at U.S. Embassy Libreville (see U.S. Embassy Gabon: State/OIG’s Ode to All Things Dreadful in a Small Post).  We’re quietly watching a couple more on bad bosses bubbling up.

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U.S. Embassy Gabon: State/OIG’s Ode to All Things Dreadful in a Small Post

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For small posts in the Foreign Service, the Eagles’ ‘This could be heaven or this could be Hell’ line is often appropriate.  And in the case of the U.S. Embassy Libreville in Gabon, it sounds pretty much like the later. With few exceptions, it’s hard to find things that are working well at the embassy in Gabon based on State/OIG’s inspection. The report lists career diplomat Joel Danies as U.S. Ambassador who arrived at post in March 2018. The listed DCM Randall Merideth arrived at post in August 2017.

Although we don’t have the date, the embassy’s top two officials must have departed post sometime this past winter.  By March 2019, CDA Robert Scott was listed as CDA (chargé d’affaires), with Sam Watson as DCM (deputy chief of mission).  As of this writing, the U.S. Embassy in Libreville is headed by Chargé d’Affaires Sam Watson.  The June 18, 2019 Key Officers of Foreign Service Posts for Gabon (PDF) does not list a Deputy Chief of Mission.

We understand that retired Ambassador Robert Whitehead who was appointed three times as  Chargé d’Affaires to Sudan and was previously the U.S. Ambassador to Togo (2012-2015) has been recalled to service as full ambassador to Libreville. He reportedly arrived in D.C. this past weekend for consultations before going to post. 

The OIG inspection team was headed by former Ambassador to Micronesia Peter Prahar.  Below are selected excerpts from the OIG report on Gabon. You may read the entire report here (PDF).

Post Snapshot:

At the time of the inspection, Embassy Libreville had 36 U.S. direct-hire positions, 116 LE staff members, and 8 eligible family member positions. Other agencies at the embassy included the Department of Defense and the Department of the Interior. The Department of State (Department) completed the new embassy compound, including the chancery, a warehouse, and other facilities, in 2012. [..] A related classified inspection report discusses the embassy’s security program and issues affecting the safety of embassy personnel and facilities.

OIG Sources:

OIG assessed Embassy Libreville’s leadership on the basis of 73 interviews that included comments on Front Office performance; staff questionnaires; and OIG’s review of documents and observations of embassy meetings and activities during the course of the on-site inspection.

Front Office Background:

The Ambassador, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, arrived in Gabon in March 2018 after an assignment as Associate Dean of the Department’s Foreign Service Institute School of Professional and Area Studies. His previous assignments included management and political positions in Belize, Switzerland, and Afghanistan, and he served as Deputy Special Coordinator in the Office of the Haiti Special Coordinator.

The Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), a career Foreign Service officer, arrived in August 2017 after an assignment as director of the Minneapolis Passport Agency. His previous Department assignments included consular and management positions in Cote d’Ivoire, Afghanistan, South Africa, and Germany. He had served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Gabon.

Ambassador Did Not Set a Positive and Professional Tone for the Embassy

OIG found that the Ambassador did not set a positive and professional tone for the embassy in accordance with Department leadership and management principles outlined in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM). In interviews with embassy staff, OIG found that the Ambassador’s verbal outbursts created anxiety and impeded communication and embassy operations. The Ambassador told OIG that he was passionate and committed to improving embassy operations and advancing U.S. interests in Gabon but that he became increasingly frustrated when the staff did not appear to respond to his directives or keep him informed of significant developments. He also acknowledged that he sometimes cursed at employees. American and LE staff told OIG that they were reluctant to provide the Ambassador with complete information on developing situations, fearing they would receive a negative reaction if he did not like what he heard. Finally, OIG noted during the inspection that the Ambassador was in conflict with a key member of the embassy’s security team over an issue that occurred 2 months before the inspection. This conflict resulted in an almost complete lack of communication between the Ambassador and this individual. In discussing the conflict with OIG, the Ambassador agreed that it was essential for embassy security that he take action to repair his relationship with the security team.

The Department’s leadership and management principles require leaders to hold themselves to the highest standards of conduct and to be self-aware. OIG advised the Ambassador to take advantage of the Department’s leadership and coaching programs. The Ambassador welcomed the advice, telling OIG that it was exactly the type of feedback he had hoped to obtain from the inspection. He also committed to work on his tone with staff by moderating the volume of his voice and eliminating the use of profanities.

Ambassador and Deputy Chief of Mission Did Not Form an Effective Leadership Team

The Ambassador and the DCM did not form an effective leadership team, as described in 2 FAM 113.2, which requires the DCM to serve as alter ego to a chief of mission in coordinating mission activity to meet broad program needs. Specifically, OIG found that the Ambassador did not establish clear expectations for the DCM regarding his responsibilities to manage the embassy. For example, the two officers had not agreed on a work requirements statement for the DCM, which should have been prepared within 45 days of the Ambassador’s arrival in March 2018, as required by 3 FAH-1 H-2815.1a(1). In discussing this issue with OIG, the Ambassador agreed that he had been remiss in not making it clear to the DCM what was expected of him. OIG also found that the Ambassador directly assigned tasks to LE staff members without informing the DCM or section chiefs. He told OIG his intent in doing this was to be personable, accessible, and aware of embassy operations. However, OIG found that the Ambassador was unaware that the practice frustrated supervisors. Embassy supervisors told OIG that although they often did not know about the assignments, the Ambassador subsequently would hold them accountable if the projects were not completed.

Oh, Lordy!

OIG found the DCM to be generally unengaged in embassy operations, unfamiliar with the work of the embassy’s sections, and uninvolved in performance management, as discussed later in this report. The DCM told OIG that in the 6 months prior to the inspection, he had prioritized introducing the Ambassador to Gabon but that in the future he would turn his attention to embassy operations.

Deputy Chief of Mission May Have Violated Anti-Nepotism Guidelines

The DCM likely did not comply with the requirements of 3 FAM 8312 to avoid nepotism and the appearance of nepotism in all employment matters. Embassy staff told OIG that the DCM repeatedly urged them to identify an embassy job for his spouse, either by selecting her for an eligible family member position or by encouraging other embassy agencies to create a position for her. This conduct is inconsistent with Department policy. Guidelines in 3 FAM 8324 state that an employee must scrupulously insulate himself or herself from acts benefiting, affecting, or giving the appearance of benefiting or affecting a relative’s career or responsibilities. The DCM denied to OIG that he had pressured anyone to create a position for his spouse or that he had made any comments to compel another embassy agency to hire his spouse. However, based on a review of documentation and interviews with embassy staff, OIG found that the DCM’s actions to secure embassy employment for his spouse likely violated Department standards. Additionally, as discussed further in the Human Resources section of this report, his conduct negatively affected embassy operations, as embassy staff sought to avoid the issue entirely by not advertising to fill any vacant eligible family member positions.

Embassy Did Not Advertise Eligible Family Member Positions (Or how five vacancies could have been filled by  5 of 8 EFMs) 

At the time of the inspection, the embassy had four vacant eligible family member positions that it had not advertised. In addition, another family member was due to transfer within a month, but the embassy had not advertised for a replacement. Management staff told OIG they were reluctant to advertise any eligible family member positions because they feared pressure to select the DCM’s spouse for one of the positions. (This is discussed in more detail in the Executive Direction section.) OIG advised the embassy to advertise and to comply with Department standards if the DCM’s spouse applies for the vacant positions. Failure to advertise eligible family member positions hindered the embassy’s operational efficiency.

Deputy Chief of Mission Did Not Review Nonimmigrant Visa Adjudications as Required

The DCM did not review nonimmigrant visa adjudications in a timely manner, as required by Department guidelines. A Bureau of Consular Affairs analysis showed that from April 1 through June 15, 2018, the DCM reviewed nonimmigrant visa adjudications twice, with an average lag time of 90 days between the visa adjudications and the DCM’s reviews. According to 9 FAM 403.12-1d, however, reviewing officers must review adjudications within 3 business days. The DCM had no explanation for this deficiency. Failure to review visa adjudications in a timely manner increases the risk of visa malfeasance or improper adjudications.

Ambassador, Deputy Chief of Mission Failed to Establish Work Requirements for American Personnel

Neither the Ambassador nor the DCM followed Department guidelines regarding completion of work requirements for American staff. Specifically, at the time of the inspection, the Ambassador and the DCM had not established written work requirements for any of their subordinates within 45 days of the beginning of the rating cycle, as required by 3 FAH-1 H- 2815.1a(1). Developing work requirements ensures that both the supervisor and subordinate participate in the process to develop a mutual understanding of the expectations for the subordinate’s work and how it aligns with the embassy’s goals and priorities. The DCM told OIG he was unfamiliar with Foreign Service performance management requirements because, in his previous assignment, he had only supervised Civil Service employees. Failure to establish work requirements in a timely manner disadvantages employees and can harm operations. Without clear expectations set at the beginning of the performance cycle, employees risk not understanding how to meet or exceed their supervisor’s expectations to achieve organizational objectives.

Embassy Did Not Comply with Department Guidelines on Acceptance of Gifts

The embassy did not adhere to 2 FAM 960 guidelines regarding the solicitation and acceptance of gifts to the Department. Embassy staff told OIG that the embassy did not review the list of companies solicited for July 4th contributions to ensure that proposed donors were neither seeking substantial assistance from the embassy nor would be substantially affected by a pending or reasonably anticipated official action, as required by 2 FAM 962.8a(1). As a result, at least one company for which the Ambassador had actively advocated was solicited for a contribution. The Ambassador also accepted travel on an aircraft chartered by the same company without seeking concurrence of White House Counsel, as required by 2 FAM 962.12h. Failure to comply with these guidelines could create the appearance of partiality or favoritism on the part of the U.S. Government.

And more!

State/OIG made 28 recommendations.  The Department and the U.S. Agency for Global Media concurred with 25 recommendations and disagreed with 3. State/OIG Recommendation 1 says that “The Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources should review whether anti-nepotism violations occurred at Embassy Libreville and, based on the results of its review, take appropriate action. (Action: DGHR).”

In its May 29, 2019, response, DGHR disagreed with this recommendation. “DGHR does not concur with the recommendation. The individual in question has left the Department, so no further action is necessary.” 

The report’s second recommendation says that “Embassy Libreville should comply with Department guidelines regarding the acceptance of gifts. (Action: Embassy Libreville)”

Management Response: In its June 3, 2019, response, Embassy Libreville disagreed with this recommendation. The embassy noted that the travel was not provided as a gift and that travel orders were issued for the Ambassador to accompany Board of Directors members to observe the offshore drilling site by helicopter and return by commercial aircraft. The embassy also noted that actions taken by the Ambassador and embassy staff to facilitate access of a U.S. company to the appropriate Gabonese Government officials were consistent with the guidance provided in 2 Foreign Affairs Manual 962.8 that the entity was not “…seeking substantial assistance from post (e.g., nonroutine consular assistance or nonroutine commercial advocacy or assistance) nor would be substantially affected by a pending or reasonably anticipated post official action….”

OIG writes that it considers the recommendation unresolved. “Notwithstanding the embassy’s rationale, the Ambassador’s acceptance of travel on an aircraft chartered by a company for which the Ambassador actively advocated could create the appearance of partiality or favoritism on the part of the U.S. The recommendation can be closed when OIG receives and accepts documentation of Embassy Libreville’s compliance with Department guidelines regarding the acceptance of gifts.”

OIG’s number 3 recommendation says “Embassy Libreville should comply with Department instructions and guidance on reporting significant political, economic, and societal developments.”

Management Response: In its June 3, 2019, response, Embassy Libreville disagreed with this recommendation. The embassy noted it complies with reporting guidance and dispatched cables and communications on significant political, economic, and societal developments through every channel available despite a severely depleted formal reporting staff.

OIG writes that it considers the recommendation unresolved. “During the inspection, OIG identified numerous instances where the Ambassador did not report the results of substantive meetings with business leaders, host government officials, and other senior contacts. The recommendation can be closed when OIG receives and accepts documentation that Embassy Libreville is reporting on significant political, economic, and societal developments.”

 

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