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
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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
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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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Snapshot: @StateDept Process For Determining Danger Pay Eligibility

Posted: 3:07 am ET
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Via GAO:

Danger Pay Process, State Department via GAO, September 2017

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GAO Reviews @StateDept’s Hardship and Danger Pay Allowances

Posted: 4:21 am ET
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Back in February 2015, we blogged about the State Department then considering changes to its danger pay allowance (see Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay). In September 2015, we updated that post as new danger pay designation came into effect (see New Danger Pay Differential Posts: See Gainers, Plus Losers Include One Post on Evacuation Status.)

More recently, the Government Accountability Office was asked by the House Oversight and Government Reform (HOGR) Committee to review the State Department’s administration of hardship and danger pay for its employees. The GAO report examines the following:

(1) State’s spending at overseas posts for hardship and danger pay in fiscal years 2011-2016
(2) the extent to which State has followed its process for determining hardship and danger pay rates at overseas posts
(3) the procedures State uses to implement its policies for stopping and starting hardship and danger pay when employees temporarily leave their assigned overseas posts
(4) the extent to which State has identified improper payments related to hardship and danger pay.

The GAO made the following conclusions:

  • State mostly followed the new processes it established in 2015 for determining hardship and danger pay rates and locations, in a few cases it awarded Director Points that increased hardship pay for posts without clearly explaining in its documentation how the conditions at these posts met State’s criteria. Without clearer documentation, State cannot provide assurances that it is applying Director Points consistently across posts and tenures of ALS Directors, potentially leading to increased spending on hardship pay not otherwise justified under State’s current process for determining rates.  (The report notes that 12 of the 15 memos did not clearly document how the posts met State’s criteria for awarding Director Points.  State approved hardship rates for these posts that were 5 percent higher than the rate they would have received in the absence of Director Points. State policies note that Director Points may be awarded for extreme conditions not adequately captured in State’s written standards).
  • State has not assessed the cost- effectiveness of its policies and procedures for stopping and starting hardship pay when employees temporarily leave their overseas posts. State officials noted that these policies and procedures are resource intensive to implement and contribute to improper payments, which are costly to recover. Without reviewing the cost-effectiveness of these policies and procedures, State does not know whether they are effective, efficient, and economical.
  • By not analyzing available data compiled by CGFS, State may be missing an opportunity to identify, recover, and prevent improper payments related to hardship pay with the potential to produce cost savings for the U.S. government. Our independent analysis of State data identified overseas posts accounting for millions of dollars in hardship spending in fiscal years 2015 and 2016 that may be at high risk for improper payments.

It also offers the following recommendations for the following offices:

Director of Allowance/ALS — should clearly document how the conditions at relevant posts meet the criteria for Director Points to ensure that hardship pay rates for overseas posts are consistently determined across posts and tenures of ALS Directors.

Undersecretary of Management — should assess the cost- effectiveness of State’s policies and procedures for stopping and starting hardship pay for employees who temporarily leave their assigned overseas posts. (Recommendation 2)

Department’s Comptroller/CGFS — should analyze available diplomatic cable data from overseas posts to identify posts at risk of improper payments for hardship pay, identify any improper payments, and take steps to recover and prevent them. (Recommendation 3)

Other details:

FOUR POSTS: The GAO conducted fieldwork at four posts that receive hardship or danger pay: Islamabad, Pakistan; Mexico City, Mexico; New Delhi, India; and Tunis, Tunisia.

THREE-QUARTERS OF FS WORKFORCE:  According to State data, about three-quarters of the department’s Foreign Service overseas work force, as of September 30, 2016, was based at a post designated for hardship pay.

HARDSHIP PAY: As of February 5, 2017, State offered hardship pay at 188 of its 273 overseas posts (about 69 percent).

DANGER PAY: As of February 5, 2017, State had provided danger pay at 25 of its 273 overseas posts (about 9 percent).

SIX POSTS: As of February 5, 2017, 21 overseas posts were eligible for both hardship and danger allowances, and 6 posts were receiving the maximum 70 percent combined rate for hardship and danger pay: Bangui, Central African Republic; Basrah, Iraq; Kabul, Afghanistan; Mogadishu, Somalia; Peshawar, Pakistan; and Tripoli, Libya.

AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ: State spent about $138 million on hardship pay in Afghanistan and Iraq in fiscal years 2011 through 2016— about 19 percent of its total spending on hardship pay. State spent about $125 million on danger pay in these two countries over the same period, almost half of its worldwide danger pay spending.

1 BILLION (FY2011-2015) :  State spent about $1 billion for hardship and danger pay in fiscal years 2011 through 2016, including $732 million for State employees serving in locations designated for hardship pay and $266 million for employees serving in locations designated for danger pay.

STOP/START PAYMENTS: According to CGFS data, overseas posts sent diplomatic cables requiring CGFS to make more than 10,000 manual adjustments to temporarily stop and start employees’ hardship pay in both 2015 and 2016.

IMPROPER PAYMENTS: CGFS identified a total of about $2.9 million in improper payments for hardship and danger pay in fiscal years 2015 and 2016.  As of March 2017, CGFS had recovered almost $2.7 million, or about 92 percent, of the improper payments it identified in 2015 and 2016 related to hardship and danger pay. According to CGFS officials, the bureau was continuing efforts to recover the remaining 8 percent.

The full report is available to read here: GAO OVERSEAS ALLOWANCES 9-2017.
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