State/OIG “Looking Into” Reported Political Targeting of @StateDept Career Employees

Posted: 3:02 am ET

 

Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, have called on State OIG Steve Linick to look into reports of violations of personnel policies and political retribution against State Department employees.

Our staffs have been in touch with whistleblowers alleging that the Department is engaging in prohibited personnel practices that appear to conflict with agency regulations and policies.  The information we have received corroborates recent reporting by CNN on the same matter.  We ask that you look into allegations that the Department has unlawfully targeted employees for political reasons due to their work under the last Administration.

Our staffs have been made aware of credible allegations that the State Department has required high-level career civil servants, with distinguished records serving administrations of both parties, to move to performing tasks outside of their area of substantive expertise.  At the very least, this is a waste of taxpayer dollars.  At worst, it may constitute impermissible abuse and retaliation.

The two Ranking Members requested that the State OIG “investigate the State Department’s FOIA surge.” They want to know if 1) “these personnel assignments made according to U.S. law and Department regulations?”   2) “Were the rights of the Department’s employees violated?”and 3) “Did political retaliation play any role?”

On January 30, govexec reported that State/OIG is “looking into” allegations that the agency is engaged in political targeting and other prohibited personnel practices.

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Senators Seek Review/Analysis of @StateDept and @USAID Sexual Harassment and Assault Data

Posted: 2:29 am ET

 

U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Ranking Member of the SFRC Subcommittee on State Department and USAID Management, led the Committee’s Democrats in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and USAID Administrator Mark Green on January 17, requesting a review and analysis of data to better understand the scope of sexual harassment and assault issues at the Department and Agency, in order to consider appropriate policy changes to address the problems.

ABOUT TIME.

Note that back in September 2016,  this blog wanted to know the statistics on sexual assault in the Foreign Service, specifically in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2003. We were also interested in overall statistics on sexual assault in the Foreign Service worldwide, during the last 10 years. We did not ask for names, only numbers. We simply asked for an accounting of sexual assault reports since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to the present, and the worldwide number of reports spanning over 280 overseas posts in the last 10 years. We were sure the data must be available somewhere. How could it not?

This was the State Department’s official response at that time:

“The Office of Special Investigations receives and catalogues allegations and complaints. Allegations are neither categorized by location nor by alleged offense.”

That remains a shocking response.

Without looking at their data by location and offense, or for that matter by individuals accused, how is the State Department to know when there are serial offenders in its ranks? (See The State Dept’s Sexual Assault Reporting Procedure Appears to Be a Black Hole of Grief).

In its 4th Quarter 2017 report for period ending September 30, 2017, the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) does have some information on Equal Employment Opportunity Data required by the No Fear Act.  The public report indicates that reprisal is the number one complaint by basis in FY2017.  Non-sexual harassment went from 72 complaints in 2016 to 103 at the end of FY2017. The comparative report notes 3 complaints of sexual harassment in 2016 and 6 complaints at end of FY2017.

The average number of days in investigation? 207.17 days.

Total Findings of Discrimination after a hearing for sexual harassment? Zero. In 2012.

Also zero in 2013, in 2014, in 2015, in 2016, and through the end of FY2017. Zero.

Apparently, S/OCR does not also count cases reversed by the EEOC like that 2016 case where S/OCR did not find sexual harassment but where the EEOC decided that the complainant was indeed subjected to sexual harassment and ordered the State Department to take remedial actions (see @StateDept to Hold “Harassment in the Workplace” Session But First, Read This FSI Sexual Harassment Case).

S/OCR was recently a presenter in a State Department Q&A session “Should I Report That? How (and when) to Report Workplace Conflict, Harassment & Bias in the Department”.

To read more about our previous posts on sexual assault, click here; for sexual harassment, click here.

Below is the text of the letter to Secretary Tillerson and USAID Administrator Mark Green:

We write to draw to your attention the November 28, 2017 letter signed by over 200 national security professionals who have served, often with distinction, in the State Department, the intelligence community, USAID, and the Pentagon about their experiences of (or serving as witnesses to) incidents of sexual harassment or sexual assault inside our national security bureaucracies.

This letter speaks to what we believe remains a critical issue that too many of our national security institutions have been too slow to address: sexual assault and harassment and its effects on the professionalism and effective functioning of those institutions. These incidents and the pervasive culture that all too frequently excuses these behaviors and actions have had serious and detrimental consequences for the careers and lives of those affected – and by depriving the United States of the service of some of our best and brightest, a deep and negative effect on our national security.

To better address this issue, we would urge you to provide the Foreign Relations Committee a review of your current methods for data collection, oversight, reporting structure, victim protections, analysis and anti-sexual harassment training, including employee feedback on these mechanisms and how they are being implemented. In our oversight capacity, we hope to work with you, to review and analyze the data to better understand the scope of the problem we confront as we consider appropriate policy changes to address it.

The November 28 letter contends that training is all too often “erratic” and “irregular,” and that policies often go unnoticed among staff. In our experiences serving on the oversight committee with responsibilities for the Department of State and USAID we concur with this contention. We would urge that you pay special attention to whether anti-harassment training is adequate, how it is implemented, and how it is enforced, in your respective reviews. We also urge you to examine your procedures for disciplinary actions to ensure that those who demonstrate improper behavior are held accountable for their actions.

The letter also calls for a number of reforms including a clear indication that national security leadership will not tolerate certain behavior, ensuring the full accessibility and functioning of “multiple, clear, private” channels to report abuse without fear of retribution, and ensuring sufficiently regular, mandatory, and instructive training for employees and contractors. We would be interested in your thoughts and comments on these potential areas for reform.

We also urge that you each take the opportunity to work with us to determine what additional resources are necessary to ensure that each report and allegation receives proper attention, that your offices are collecting all the relevant data, that cases are addressed in a timely and confidential fashion, and that training is fully implemented across the State and USAID workforce.

At a moment in our country when we are being reminded anew of the scope and challenge of sexual harassment in the workplace, we are rededicating ourselves here in the Senate to addressing this issue in our own ranks. The Legislative branch faces similar challenges and that while we work to address them, we expect the same from executive branch agencies. For our part, in addition to exploring appropriate oversight and legislative action to ensure that you have the resources and focus that you need to address these issues, we also intend to place additional emphasis on these issues in the confirmation process. We intend to ensure that nominees live up to the highest standards of behavior, and will seek commitments regarding how they intend to address sexual harassment and assault if they are confirmed.

Lastly, we note that the abuses, harassment and assaults noted in the November 28 letter are enabled by an environment in which the diversity of our nation – one of our “secret weapons” and competitive advantages as a nation – is not reflected in the national security workforce. This is especially true at the senior levels. At the State Department, for example, women and men enter the Foreign Service in roughly comparable numbers, but only about one-third of our senior Foreign Service Officers are women. Although women comprise a majority of the Civil Service, the Senior Executive Service remains 61% male and 89% white. Similarly disturbing trends come to light when analyzing the salaries, bonuses and expectations of workplace behavior amongst men and women working in national security roles. We still have a long way to go on gender equality in the national security workforce, and encourage you to share with us as well your vision for how you plan to address deficiencies in recruitment, retention and promotion to assure that your national security workforce is equitably balanced.

The members of our national security workforce should not be forced to spend their time and energy combatting harassment and a culture of tolerance for disrespectful behavior. Rather, they should be free to focus on what they do best – working to keep our nation safe. And we know from numerous studies that a more diverse workforce leads to better outcomes. A 2015 McKinsey study found that a more diverse workforce is more successful through improved decision-making, leadership, and financial progress. We know that to be true in the private sector and we know that to be true for government as well.

Mindful that there are myriad challenges and opportunities to better address sexual harassment in the workplace we do not seek nor do we expect you to develop a cookie-cutter approach to these issues. Rather, we call on you to respect the dignity of each member of our national security workforce by ensuring an environment in which each individual is capable of fully contributing his or her talents to our national security, without obstruction.

The original text of letter is posted here.

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Dear Secretary Tillerson: What Are You Going to Do About This? #16Days

Posted: 3:40 am ET
 

 

A new mail in our inbox:

“In reference to a blog posting dated August 8th, you reported on a woman who was raped and stalked by a supervisory special agent.  This employee is still employed and he has struck again.  Why is he still employed yet still committing offenses?”

The new case includes a petition for temporary restraining order/injunction filed on November 13, 2017. It appears that the petitioner in this case did testify but the injunction hearing is scheduled for April 2018.

Back in August, we blogged about an individual who asserted that she was raped and stalked by a supervisory Diplomatic Security agent assigned to one of Diplomatic Security’s eight field locations in the United States:

She said that was interviewed by Diplomatic Security’s  Office of Special Investigations (DS/DO/OSI) in November 2014. She also said that she provided a Victim Impact Statement to DS/OSI in December 2015. The investigation reportedly concluded in February 2016 with no disciplinary action. She informed us that during one telephonic conversations with a Supervisory Special Agent, she felt pressured to say that “I was pleased with the DoS handling of this case.” She presumed that the call was recorded and refused to say it.  She cited another case that was reported around the same time her case was investigated in 2014.  She believed that there were multiple police reports for the employee involving different women for similar complaints.

We’ve asked the Bureau of Diplomatic Security for comments about this case, and whether this was reported to the Office of Inspector General. To-date, we have not received an acknowledgment to our inquiry nor a response to our questions despite ample time to do so.

Read more: A Woman Reported to Diplomatic Security That She Was Raped and Stalked by a DS Agent, So What Happened?

We are aware of at least three different incidents allegedly perpetrated by the same individual who has law enforcement authority. One of these three identifies herself as “Victim #4”.

Per Department of State Authorities Act for Fiscal Year 2017:

1 FAM 053.2-6  Required Reporting of Allegations to the OIG (CT:ORG-411;   04-13-2017)

a. Effective December 16, 2016, section 209(c)(6) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as added by section 203 of the Department of State Authorities Act, Fiscal Year 2017 (22 U.S.C. 3929(c)(6)), provides:

REQUIRED REPORTING OF ALLEGATIONS AND INVESTIGATIONS AND INSPECTOR GENERAL AUTHORITY.—

(A) IN GENERAL.—The head of a bureau, post, or other office of the Department of State (in this paragraph referred to as a ‘Department entity’) shall submit to the Inspector General a report of any allegation of—

(i) waste, fraud, or abuse in a Department program or operation;

(ii) criminal or serious misconduct on the part of a Department employee at the FS–1, GS–15, or GM–15 level or higher;

(iii) criminal misconduct on the part of a Department employee; and

(iv) serious, noncriminal misconduct on the part of any Department employee who is authorized to carry a weapon, make arrests, or conduct searches, such as conduct that, if proved, would constitute perjury or material dishonesty, warrant suspension as discipline for a first offense, or result in loss of law enforcement authority.

(B) DEADLINE.—The head of a Department entity shall submit to the Inspector General a report of an allegation described in subparagraph (A) not later than 5 business days after the date on which the head of such Department entity is made aware of such allegation.

b. Any allegation meeting the criteria reflected in the statute should immediately be brought to the attention of the relevant head of a bureau, post, or bureau-level office. (Bureau-level offices are entities on the Department’s organizational chart as revised from time to time, see Department Organizational Chart.)

c.  The first report by any Department entity should cover the period beginning December 16, 2016 (the day the law went into effect), and ending not later than five business days before the date of that report. Thereafter, any additional reportable information is due not later than the five-business day deadline stated in the statute. 

See more: @StateDept Now Required to Report Allegations and Investigations to OIG Within 5 Days

The case of the individual in the August blogpost occurred before the Department of State Authorities Act for Fiscal Year 2017 became law. But this latest case was filed on November 13, 2017.

We’ve asked Diplomatic Security for comment but despite ample time to do so, we only hear radio silence.

NADA

We’ve inquired from State/OIG if DS officially reported this case to them, and we got the following response:

“In response to your inquiry, it is best addressed by the Department.”

What the what?! So we end up asking our dear friends at the State Department’s Public Affairs shop:

We recently received information that the same individual is now alleged to have committed similar offenses in another state. This is not the first nor the second allegation. Since DS never acknowledged nor responded to our request for comment, and State/OIG told us we should direct this question to you, we’re asking if you would care to make a comment. What is the State Department’s response to this case involving an individual, a supervisory DS agent with multiple allegations who remains a member of the agency’s law enforcement arm?

Apparently, our dear friends are still not talking to us.  As of this writing we have not received any acknowledgment or any response to our inquiry.  Should we presume from this silence that the State Department hope that we just get tired of asking about this case and go away?

Anyone care that there is potentially a serial offender here?

In 2014, a woman (identified herself as Victim #4) reported that she was raped and stalked by a supervisory agent of Diplomatic Security.

In April 2015, a case was filed for Domestic Abuse-Temp Rest Order against the same person.  The case was closed. Court record says “The court did not issue an injunction against the respondent in this case. The reasons were stated on the record and may be explained in the final order. No adverse inference should be drawn against the respondent when an injunction is denied or a case dismissed. The fact that a petition was originally filed means nothing.” 

On November 6, 2017, another case for “Harassment Restraining Order” was registered against the same individual and closed. The court sealed the name of the complainant. The court record says  “The court did not issue an injunction against the respondent in this case. The reasons were stated on the record and may be explained in the final order. No adverse inference should be drawn against the respondent when an injunction is denied or a case dismissed. The fact that a petition was originally filed means nothing.”

On November 13, 2017, a “Domestic Abuse-Temp Rest Order” was filed against the same individual, and this case is scheduled for an injunction hearing on April 30, 2018.

2014. 2015. 2017.

A source speaking on background explained to us that once Diplomatic Security completes the investigation, its Office of Special Investigations (OSI) sends the case report to the Bureau of Human Resources Conduct, Suitability, and Discipline Division, Office of Employee Relations (HR/ER/CSD).  This office is under the responsibility of the Director General of the Foreign Service, or in the absence of a Senate-confirmed appointee, under the authority of Acting DGHR William E. Todd, who reports to the Under Secretary for Management (currently vacant), who in turn reports to the Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.

“The most concerning cases can take years and remember, the employee is waiting from CSD to hear proposed discipline. Almost everybody appeals that initial decision. Then they appeal the next decision to the FSGB which, not infrequently, dismisses cases or reduces disciplinary action for timeliness. Each step in the process can take multiple years and DS can’t do anything other than remove law enforcement authority when appropriate.”

This one via State/OIG (ISP-I-15-04):

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security, OIG, and/or the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) may initially investigate misconduct involving both Foreign Service and Civil Service employees, depending on the nature of the allegation. If an investigation suggests a possible disciplinary issue, the case is forwarded to the Bureau of Human Resources Conduct, Suitability, and Discipline Division, Office of Employee Relations (HR/ER/CSD). Similarly, when a bureau without delegated disciplinary authority or post management determines that misconduct by an employee warrants more than admonishment, they forward documentation to HR/ER/CSD for consideration of disciplinary action. HR/ER/CSD, which has eight staff members, receives about 240 referrals per year.

“Preponderant Evidence” vs “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” Standard via State/OIG:

HR/ER/CSD and bureaus with delegated disciplinary authority are responsible for determining whether disciplinary action is warranted and for developing disciplinary proposals.

The “preponderant evidence” standard is used rather than the higher standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” used in criminal cases.4 The Department is additionally required to establish a nexus between the disciplinary action and the promotion of the efficiency of the service.5 For both Civil Service and Foreign Service disciplinary cases, a proposed penalty is based on the review of similar past discipline cases and the application of the Douglas Factors…”

The Office of the Legal Adviser, Employment Law (L/EMP), and DGHR’s Grievance Staff, along with the Office of Medical Services, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, OIG, DGHR’s Office of Career Development and Assignments, and domestic bureaus or overseas posts, as necessary, cooperate in developing a factual basis for a disciplinary case. HR/ER/CSD and L/EMP clear proposed disciplinary actions from the bureaus with delegated disciplinary authority that involve suspension, termination, or reduction in pay grade for Civil Service employees.

In the 2014 State/OIG report, HR/ER/CSD staff members acknowledge that timeliness is one of their primary challenges and that the case specialists are consistently unable to meet their performance target of 30 days from receipt of a complete referral package to proposal finalization. “The OIG team’s analysis of 891 discipline cases between 2010 and May 2014, for which timeliness data could be extracted from the GADTRK database, revealed that the average time from case receipt to decision letter was 114 days.”

Our source speaking on background elaborated that the reason State/DS has an adverse action list is because it takes so long for the Department to discipline employees, Diplomatic Security “needed a tracking mechanism.” (see Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s “Naughty List” — What’s That All About?).

But. 2014. 2015. 2017.

How many is too many?

How long is too long?

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Contractor Seeks PR Consultant For State/OBO’s Ideal Operational State (IOS) Public Relations Initiatives

Posted: 3:11 am ET

 

We recently posted about an OBO survey in this blog (see @StateDept Building Ops Employees Asked to Pick Top Ten Core Values From a 99 Values Menu).

Related to State/OBO, Moss Cape LLC, an Alaskan Tribal 8(a) Certified Entity with corporate headquarters in Anchorage Alaska is currently seeking a Public Relations Consultant for the State Department’s Overseas Building Operations (OBO) Ideal Operational State (IOS) public relations initiatives. The job announcement is posted at the mosscape website as well as on Simply Hired and Indeed.

This PR consultant has some interesting responsibilities that include “Support the Organization and Transformation Advisor in developing a strategic PR/Communications schedule” and “Create thought leadership materials to include leveraging creative tools (i.e. Foreign Service Institute) for delivery of communications” among other things.

Why does OBO, the overseas buildings arm of the State Department have “public relations initiatives” and why does it need a PR consultant to “create thought leadership materials” for the Foreign Service Institute?

According to a March 2017 GAO report OBO recently established an initiative—termed the Ideal Operational State—to explore long-term ways to centralize and standardize data collection across OBO’s operations.

According to OBO officials, this Excellence-related initiative is intended to provide a long-term data solution that will allow for better program management across OBO’s business activities as well as better tracking of project metrics such as cost and schedule performance. The study group tasked with assessing OBO’s current information technology systems and potential market alternatives held a kickoff in May 2016 and, after a series of working sessions and vendor evaluations, recommended a series of actions to OBO’s senior management, including an upgrade and modification of existing OBO management software. OBO management approved action on these recommendations in October 2016.

For those interested, the job announcement is posted below:

Responsible for Overseas Building Operations (OBO) Ideal Operational State (IOS) public relations initiatives. Creates, manages, and implements PR campaigns with the goal of enriching the IOS Program’s position in the eyes of external and internal stakeholders. Maintains strong relationships with the client and key stakeholders. Will effectively disseminate and communicate the program mission, policies and goals to the entire organization. Will inform the organization of all initiatives, processes, and outcomes relating to the program, in such a way as to create interest, acceptance, and engagement.

Responsibilities

  • Plan and direct public relations initiative, designed to create and maintain a favorable public image for the client and the IOS program
  • Create IOS program literature, talking points, sound bites, and other content and user success stories for trifolds, videos, presentations, roadshows, and other marketing materials
  • Support the Organization and Transformation Advisor in developing a strategic PR/Communications schedule to be rolled up into a larger Integrated Master Schedule Coordinate scheduling and logistics w/ internal and external clients, as needed
  • Coordinate conference, trade shows, and press interviews
  • Develop content for the IOS Program’s website to attract more traffic and increase stakeholder engagement and interest; Recommend, implement and maintain site design and operation
  • Work with the IOS team for timely and useable content submissions
  • Copyedit, proofread, and revise communications
  • Design and launch email marketing campaigns
  • Plan pre-training communications rollout in anticipation of the execution of the training program
  • Promote IOS program successes and services through public relations initiatives
  • Create thought leadership materials to include leveraging creative tools (i.e. Foreign Service Institute) for delivery of communications
  • Identify, develop and execute communications strategy for key stakeholders (internal and external) contacts and customer references
  • Research lessons learned (UK Ministry of Defense, Smithsonian and DHS etc.) and industry trends to supplement narrative
  • Develop fresh story ideas
  • Conduct extensive stakeholder outreach
  • Prepare briefing materials
  • Manage and track communication dissemination
  • Prepare agendas, as needed
  • Help to clarify the organization’s point of view to their main constituency
  • Advise and keep PM/DPM informed of not only current state but also future strategies
  • Create high quality, well executed clear and engaging written materials
  • Develop promotional strategies to further engage the organization in the program’s mission
  • Organize communication events/opportunities to further educate/inform the organization of the program’s initiatives, processes, and outcomes
  • Develop and build key relationship with internal and external stakeholders
  • Coordinates with the program team to design and distribute bulletins, newsletters, website content, flyers, and media releases
  • Help gather information, write, edit and disseminate content for internal and external customers
  • Support comprehensive, proactive social media initiatives
  • Evaluate social media opportunities for reach, effectiveness, and required resource investment

Qualifications

  • Education:
    • Bachelor’s Degree in Communications, English or related field
  • Required Knowledge/Experience:
    • 5+ years of directly related experience
    • Full Microsoft Office Suite expertise, particularly in PowerPoint and Word functionality
    • Experience working in or directly with web-based media
    • Ability to write clearly and adapt writing to suit various audiences
    • Strong interpersonal and oral communications skills, experience with a variety of audiences
    • Collaborate with cross functional teams
    • Coordinate with and manage stake holders
    • Develop schedules and maintain deadlines
    • Strong technical and design skills to build visual layouts desired in conjunction with PM/DPM and Organizational Transformation Advisor, facilitate stakeholder workshops, roadshows, training sessions etc. as needed
    • Strong strategic planning capabilities with equally strong tactical execution skills
  • Preferred Knowledge/Experience:
    • Experience working with Department of State Customer

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SFRC Clears Gonzales (Lesotho), Johnson (Namibia), Goldstein (R) and Lawler (Protocol)

Posted: 12:10 am ET

 

On Tuesday, November 14, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) held a business meeting to consider several items on their agenda including over half a dozen State Department nominations.  The panel held over the nomination of  Eric M. Ueland, of Oregon, to be Under Secretary of State  for Management. Senator Corker on video said that the nomination will be taken up the next business meeting, but there is no announced date at this time. This announcement was made at the 24.00 mark of this video after Senator Corker said that they had a very unsatisfactory meeting with the State Department regarding the reorganization, and that they need to do more to hold the agency accountable.

The SFRC cleared the following nominees:

Ms. Rebecca Eliza Gonzales, of Texas, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Lesotho

Ms. Lisa A. Johnson, of Washington, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Namibia

Mr. Irwin Steven Goldstein, of New York, to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy

Mr. Sean P. Lawler, of Maryland, to be Chief of Protocol, and to have the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service

The panel also cleared the following list:

FSO LIST

Lisa-Felicia Afi Akorli, et al., dated November 1, 2017 (PN 1199)

John R. Bass, II, et al., dated November 1, 2017 (PN 1200)

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Tillerson’s Hiring/Lateral Transfer Freeze: What Priorities Shape Staffing Freeze Exceptions?

Posted: 1:40 am ET
Follow @Diplopundit

 

So Secretary Tillerson has apparently lifted the hiring freeze for WAEs to work the FOIA shop (FS retirees from any agency and CS retirees from DOS are eligible), but Diplomatic Security could not get one position established for its Mobile Security Deployments Office because there is still a freeze on hiring and lateral transfers for the rest of the Foggy Bottom universe?

Diplomatic Security’s Office of Mobile Security Deployments (MSD) is the agency’s emergency security support, crisis response, and special mission component. MSD was originally established in 1985 under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s (DS) Directorate for Training to provide training and security support to overseas posts. As a result of the 9/11 attacks, the Department in 2002 expanded MSD’s mission to include:

  • Security Support Teams, which deploy to embassies or consulates during periods of immediate threat of terrorist or criminal activity, crisis, natural disaster, or other unusual event.
  • Tactical Support Teams, which provide protection for the Secretary of State and other high-risk VIPs, both domestically and as required when the Secretary is traveling abroad.
  • Integrated Mobile Training Teams, which provide specialized security training at overseas posts for U.S. Government employees and to foreign partners.

According to State/OIG, MSD is authorized 104 Foreign Service, 24 Civil Service, and 26 contractor positions. At the time of the inspection, 25 percent of the Foreign Service positions were unfilled.

DS leadership acknowledged that MSD is critical to the security and safety of the Secretary and the Department’s embassies and consulates. Nonetheless, the office faced, on average, a 13.7 percent shortfall in staffing in the three years prior to 2017. This staffing shortfall resulted in 14 agent positions, or two and a half teams, being unstaffed. The staffing shortfall increased in 2017 to 38 percent; a shortfall of 38 agent positions or staffing for six and a half teams. In addition to reducing the number of teams it deployed, the staffing shortfall also required MSD to prioritize Security Support Team and Tactical Support Team missions over Integrated Mobile Training Team missions. As a result, MSD frequently had to reschedule training missions to address more urgent priorities.

In FY 2016, MSD teams deployed 70 times, often on short notice for periods up to 2 months or more, to locales where U.S. embassies and consulates faced serious security threats. Additionally, from July 2014 through April 2017, MSD dedicated 6 of its 10 teams to continuous missions in South Sudan and Somalia, leaving only 4 teams to address other crises or provide needed training. In December 2016, when every available team was deployed on priority missions, MSD trained senior agents, not normally deployed, to create an additional team in case another crisis arose. DS senior leadership acknowledged the need for additional MSD agents but also recognized DS’ bureau-wide shortage of agents. […] MSD met the standards in 1 FAM 262.5-3(1), which require the office to provide Security Support Teams for emergency support to overseas posts during periods of high threats, crises, or natural disasters. The office also met Department standards in 12 FAH-1 H-024.1-2b, which state that Security Support Teams should provide time-sensitive protective security for ambassadors, post personnel, or facility protection, to generally counter a direct or imminent threat of attack. MSD deployed 25 Security Support Teams in FY 2015, 18 in FY 2016, and 10 through the first 7 months of FY 2017. Among the missions conducted from September 2016 through April 2017, MSD provided protective support during the ordered departure of Embassy Kinshasa personnel due to political protests. During the same period, MSD also provided a protective detail for the Ambassador and a tactical operations center at Embassy Juba in the face of civil unrest. Other Security Support Team missions included support to U.S. embassies in the Gambia, Mauritania, the Republic of the Congo, and Somalia. While at a post, Security Support Teams also provided training to regional security officers, Marine Security Guards, the local guard force and American family members in an effort to strengthen their capability to meet future crises.

The State/OIG report notes that MSD did not have anyone permanently assigned to provide high-level oversight for its administrative operations and procedures per GAO suggestion. So last year, MSD apparently established a temporary position for an employee to exercise high-level, unified oversight of the MSD administrative functions.

OIG found that the two DS Special Agents, each of whom held the position for only a few months, were instrumental in implementing significant improvements in MSD personal property internal controls, including the examples described above. These Special Agents also prepared, drafted or updated 50 standard operating procedures on all areas of MSD operations. Based on these accomplishments, OIG concluded that there is a compelling justification to establish a permanent position to maintain the improvements and to provide long-term stability in the direct oversight of contracts, budget, and property management. Without permanent senior oversight, the office risks reverting to its former practices, including an inability to effectively manage SPE.

SPE stands for Sensitive Protective Equipment which refers to equipment, such as weapons and optical equipment like night-vision goggles, issued to agents in support of their law enforcement, security, and protective missions. State/OIG recommended that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security “should make the Office of Mobile Security Deployments’ temporary administrative chief a permanent position.”

Management Response: In its October 13, 2017, response, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security concurred with the recommendation. The bureau noted that it had updated the internal organizational structure of the office to depict the new position. The bureau further stated that once the Department’s restrictions on hiring and lateral transfers are lifted, it would attempt to establish the position in the General Schedule to ensure permanence and continuity.

Read the full report here.

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Who’s a Slacker in Policing Sexual Misconduct in Federal Agencies? Take a Guess

Posted: 1:26 am ET
Follow @Diplopundit

 

WaPo just did a piece on sexual misconduct in federal agencies, or the lack of consistent disciplinary practices across agencies based on the staff report by the House Oversight Government Report Committee (report embedded below).

Here’s a public request from WaPo’s Joe Davidson who writes the Federal Insider column:

Questions for Federal Insider readers: How pervasive is sexual harassment in the federal government? If you have been the target of sexual harassment, please tell us the circumstances, what form the harassment took, whether it was reported, what was done about it and whether the perpetrator was disciplined. We will use this information for a future column. In certain cases we can print your comments without identification. Please send your comments to joe.davidson@washpost.com with “sexual misconduct” in the subject line.

Here is an excerpt from the OGRC, a case study that is distinctly familiar:

The hearing examined patterns of sexual harassment and misconduct at the USDA, as well as the fear many employees had of retaliation for reporting these types of cases. It also addressed the agency’s response to harassment incidents and its efforts to improve.66

At the hearing, two women testified publicly about the harassment they personally experienced while on the job at the Forest Service and how the agency’s subsequent investigation and discipline failed to address those responsible. Witness Denice Rice testified about her experiences dealing with sexual harassment on the job when her division chief was allowed to retire before facing discipline, despite his history of misconduct.67 Further, the Forest Service re-hired this individual as a contractor and invited him to give a motivational speech to employees.68 In addition, witness Lesa Donnelly testified about her and others’ experiences with sexual misconduct at the Forest Service. Her testimony spoke about those who were too afraid to report harassment because they feared retaliation from the perpetrators.69

The report cites USAID and the State Department for having Tables of Penalties but although it cites USAID for having “differing Tables of Penalties for foreign service employees and other civilian employees primarily covered by Title 5, United States Code”, it says that the State Department’s Table is “used for foreign service employees only”.

The Foreign Affairs Manual actually spells out penalties for both Foreign Service and Civil Service employees.

3 FAM 4370 LIST OF OFFENSES SUBJECT TO DISCIPLINARY ACTION – FOREIGN SERVICE

24. Use of U.S. Government equipment for prohibited activities, including gambling, advertising for personal gain, or viewing, downloading, storing, transmitting, or copying materials that are sexually explicit, while on or off duty or on or off U.S. Government premises

50. Violation of laws, regulations, or policies relative to trafficking in persons and the procurement of commercial sex, any attempt to procure commercial sex, or the appearance of procuring commercial sex

51.  Sexual Assault (3 FAM 1700)

3 FAM 4540 LIST OF OFFENSES SUBJECT TO DISCIPLINARY ACTION – CIVIL SERVICE

24. Use of U.S. Government equipment for prohibited activities, including gambling, advertising for personal gain, or viewing, downloading, storing, or transmitting, or copying materials that are sexually explicit, while on duty.

48. Violation of laws, regulations, or policies relative to trafficking in persons and the procurement of commercial sex, any attempt to procure commercial sex, or the appearance of procuring of commercial sex

49. Sexual Assault (3 FAM 1700)

You will note by now that sexual harassment is not on these Tables of Penalties.  Both regs cited above have a section that says its Table of Penalties is not an all-inclusive list. The State Department says “It is impossible to list every possible punishable offense, and no attempt has been made to do this:” But it includes this:

#a. Employees are on notice that any violation of Department regulations could be deemed misconduct regardless of whether listed in 3 FAM 4540.  This table of penalties lists the most common types of employee misconduct.  Some offenses have been included mainly as a reminder that particular behavior is to be avoided, and in the case of certain type of offenses, like sexual assault, workplace violence, and discriminatory and sexual harassment, to understand the Department’s no-tolerance policy.

#b. All employees are on notice that misconduct toward, or exploitation of, those who are particularly vulnerable to the employee’s authority and control, e.g., subordinates, are considered to be particularly egregious and will not be tolerated.

The State Department’s sexual harassment policy is here.  Also see  3 FAM 1520  NON-DISCRIMINATION ON THE BASIS OF RACE, COLOR, NATIONAL ORIGIN, SEX, OR RELIGION updated last in December 2010.

For blogposts on sexual harassment click here; for sexual assaults, click here.

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@USAmbNZ Scott Brown Gets Ahead of Bad News Over “Insensitive” Comments Probe

Posted: 12:31 am ET
Updated: Oct 27 | 12:44 am ET
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Stuff New Zealand reported on October 26 that the US ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown faced complaints over ‘cultural misunderstanding.’

US Ambassador Scott Brown has fronted over mounting “innuendo and rumour” about a State Department investigation into his behaviour. Speaking to Stuff with wife Gail Huff at his side, Brown confirmed there had been an official “administrative inquiry” into his conduct at a Peace Corps event in Samoa in July.

It is not clear if the inquiry is conducted by HR, EEOC or OIG (we’ve asked but have not received a response) but whatever it is, talking to the local media, bound to be picked up by U.S. news media, is a calculated way to get ahead of the potential fallout from a probe that has not been publicly known until now.

We hope he’s learned his lesson that he’s not just some ex-politician from New Hampshire or Massachusetts anymore. He speaks for the United States at all times now until he steps down; and as with career folks who are considered on duty 24/7, the ambassador no longer has the luxury of personal views, only official ones. For Exhibit A, see @StateDept: Ambassador Friedman’s comment “does not represent a shift in U.S. policy”; for Exhibit B, see @StateDept on Amb. Friedman’s comment (again): “should not be read as a change in U.S. policy”.

Below is the official response from the State Department: 

The State Department takes allegations of misconduct seriously and we investigate them thoroughly. We hold all employees to the highest standard. The Office of Inspector General has conducted an independent review of the allegations and reported its findings to the Department. Senior leadership at the State Department has been in contact with Ambassador Brown and he has been counseled on standards of conduct for government employees, which also includes Ambassadors.

So hey, while we’re on the subject of “insensitive” or “inappropriate” comments, say…we’ve posted about this and more related to Diplomatic Security. Has anyone sent in investigators over there to see about Special Agent Sticky Balls and what he’s up these days?

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@StateDept Cancels Ongoing #DiversityVisa Registration, Launches New Registration Oct.18-Nov.22

Posted: 3:14 pm PT
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On October 12, we blogged that the diversity visa website (https://www.dvlottery.state.gov/) has been down for maintenance since at least Sunday, October 8 (see Diversity Visa Lottery Registration Opens 10/3-11/7 – Site Now Down For Maintenance!). The Bureau of Consular Affairs which runs the program has now put up a new announcement:

With the exception of the notice posted on https://www.dvlottery.state.gov there are no FAQs on the website.  The US Embassy in Ecuador, however, helpfully posted the following FAQ:

Q: What can you tell us about the technical issue? Were entries lost? Was this a hacking attempt?
The technical issue was a failure to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth, which is permitted in certain limited circumstances. This was not a result of any outside interference or hacking attempt.

Q: How many entries had been received before this technical issue?
Due to technical issues, we are unable to reliably estimate how many valid entries were received at this time. In order to protect the integrity of the process and ensure a fair opportunity to all entrants, we are restarting the entry period now.

Q: How many DV entries does the Department expect for DV-2019?
In DV-2018, the last year for which numbers are available, we received more than 14 million entries from principal applicants.

Q: How will the Department notify applicants whose entries are not valid? 

The Department will send an automated email notification to each Diversity Visa entrant from whom an entry was received before October 18, 2017, using the email address provided on the lottery entry form, directing the entrant to check the website dvlottery.state.gov for an important announcement.  We will also work through our embassies and consulates to inform potential entrants of the situation and new registration period using social media and local media outlets.

Since this program, presumably was the same program used in last year’s lottery, why would the “technical issue” that failed “to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth” only surface now?  Did CA switched contractor between last year and this year’s lottery roll out? Did contractor perform system programming change after the last lottery but before the current one opened on October 3, 2017?

What we don’t understand is if this is a technical issue now, why was this not a technical issue last year if they’re using the same program?

This is not the first time that a “technical issue” happened with diversity visa lottery program.

We were reminded recently that the May 2015 DV lottery site crashed when people were trying to check lottery results. But the really big one happened much earlier in 2011 when Consular Affairs ran the FY2012 lottery, and it turned out the lottery results were not even random, so CA had to nullify the visa lottery results and ran the lottery again.  The nullification resulted in a lawsuit against the Department of State. That lawsuit was eventually dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on July 14, 2011.

The State/OIG did review that FY2012 DV debacle, and since we’re not clear how the current technical issue occurred, we’ll revisit the 2011 case:

The OIG team found three problems that led to this failure, all of which stem from the lack of adherence to sound project management and systems development principles. First, CA’s Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) implemented a system programming change without performing adequate testing. Second, CST changed contract task orders without notifying the Office of Acquisition Management (AQM). Third, CST management failed to adequately discuss the changes with all stakeholders and thus did not fully understand how overseas consular officers administer the DV program.

Also this:

The primary reason for the DV 2012 program failure was that CST did not adequately test the new computer program for the random selection of potential DV program participants. Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended,3 limits the number of DVs that may be available by both region and country. Therefore, 22 CFR § 42.33(c) requires that selection be based on random rank-ordering of participants by region through a computer program designed for this purpose. When participants submit their records, the computer program assigns a sequential number to each record based on the participant’s region. Subsequently, the selection process uses the sequential numbers to randomly rank-order the participants’ records. CST management decided in November 2010 not to use the commercial off—the—shelf statistics analysis program that it had used successfully for random rank—ordering in numerous previous years. Instead, CST management asked one of its contractors to develop a program. This new computer program had a coding error that produced a nonrandom rank-ordering and thus failed to meet INA requirements. The program not only selected 98 percent of the applicants from the first two dates of the allowed submission dates, it also selected multiple individuals from the same families.

According to CST management and the contractor staff who developed the new DV computer program, testing scenarios were limited to validating that all geographic regions were assigned the correct numerical limitation and that the total number of selectees to be drawn was accurate. In addition, the development, testing, and production implementation of the program were done exclusively by one contracting company that, due to poor planning and failure to consult with all DV stakeholders, did not have adequate information to create a complete test plan for the computer program. Key stakeholders such as CST’s independent validation and verification team, the Visa Office, and the contractor that operated and managed the legacy computer program were not involved in planning and implementing the new computer program.
[…]
Principals in the Visa Office were not aware that changes had been made to the computer program until after it failed and the results had to be voided. CST management further stated that it is not clear to them which office is responsible for administering the DV program.

Read the full report here: https://oig.state.gov/system/files/176330.pdf.

So again, did the Consular Affairs contractor perform system programming changes after last year’s lottery but before the current one opened on the 3rd of October?

If that did not happen, and CA is using the same system, how did CA principals become aware that the system is failing “to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth?”

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Snapshot: Stop/Start Process For Hardship Pay For Employees Traveling Away From Post

Posted: 12:57 am ET
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Via GAO:

Stop/Start Process For Hardship Pay (click on image for larger view)

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