Former FSO James Gibney: Mike Pompeo Has Poisoned the State Department

 

James Gibney is an editor for Bloomberg Opinion. Previously an editor at the Atlantic, the New York Times, Smithsonian, Foreign Policy and the New Republic, he was also in the U.S. Foreign Service from 1989 to 1997 in India, Japan and Washington. Follow him on Twitter at @jamesgibney.

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First Person: DSS Agent Assaulted By Spouse Says “Our HR process is garbage”

 

The following is a first person account shared by a Diplomatic Security agent who was assaulted twice by his spouse in USG quarters temporary housing located in the Washington DC area.  He wrote that he wanted  to call attention to a situation he faced in the hope that “others who find themselves in similar circumstances know what to expect.”  He added that “with the ongoing pandemic and quarantine other employees may find themselves in similar situations as they are trapped with their spouses under stressful circumstances.” He told us he was a DS Agent with a few years on the job.  “Despite being relatively junior, I was a good agent that made tenure, had no disciplinary issues, and I received several awards.” 
The individual who wrote this told us that he resigned from the State Department and is now employed by another agency in his home state.
This is his story, as sent to us. We’ve added links in [brackets] for the relevant offices:  

I was assigned to an HTP [High Threat Post] post in Africa and I was there for several months.  While there, a medical issue surfaced that couldn’t be treated at Post.  I went on leave to my home state (which was also the location of my previous assignment and where my spouse and child lived while I was at post) and saw a specialist.  While on leave, I was “caught out”-the medical condition I was diagnosed with while on leave prevented my return to post.  I was told by MED [Bureau of Medical Services] that I could not return to Post, my medical clearance was downgraded, and (after what seemed like an eternity), I was eventually assigned to a position in the DC/NOVA area.  Never mind that I burned through all my leave so that I could keep getting paid and the medical per diem that I was authorized didn’t pay out until the very end.  I rented out my house in my home state and prepared to move my family to the NOVA area.

 While in temporary housing at one of the Oakwood properties, my spouse assaulted me.  Our relationship had been badly strained by the long durations apart for training and an unaccompanied tour (while at post, things got so bad that I retained a lawyer and initiated divorce proceedings).  After the assault, my spouse was arrested by the local police-and after the mandatory separation period we decided to try to patch things up and try again.  Thankfully our child was not present when this happened; several weeks later we brought our child to Virginia.  I also started looking for a position with another agency knowing that the foreign service lifestyle was taking its toll.  We wound up buying a condo in one of the suburbs and moved in.

I went on a brief TDY and this separation caused issues to resurface to in our relationship.  I committed to restarting the divorce proceedings.  However, court proceedings, custody issues, and property would be decided in my home state-not in Virginia.  I could not afford another residence in Virginia, and I could not stay with my spouse due to the violent outbursts.  I was essentially homeless.  I reached out to Employee Consultation Services and my CDO [Career Development Officer] and asked about being transferred back to my home state.  At least in my home state I would be able to stay with family and see the divorce through.  Remaining in Virginia would mean continuing to “crash” at AirBnBs until my tour was up…another 18 months.  After several weeks, my spouse assured me that it was safe to return to the condo and I wanted to see my child.

Approximately 3 weeks after returning from this TDY things again took a turn for the worse and my spouse assaulted me-this time with a weapon.  I only sustained minor injuries, but my spouse was arrested and this left me responsible for taking care of our child alone.  My chain-of-command was incredibly understanding and supportive and I was able to meet family and work obligations without issue.  Unfortunately, or HR system was much less understanding and supportive. There were open positions in my home state that I wanted to return to.  However, it seems like it takes an act of God to get an employee to one of them.  I was told that my request to “the panel”…which was supported by police and court reports, and an affidavit from my attorney which explained the need to be in my home state for the divorce, may not be sufficient justification for reassignment.  According to one of the CDOs I was dealing with (more on that later), the panel is concerned that people may “take advantage of (domestic violence) situations” and try to get reassigned.  I guess that it is more career enhancing to just continue to get abused and windup losing custody than to transfer an employee.  Thankfully, I was able to secure a position with another agency in my home state.  I won’t be homeless and I can see the divorce through to the end.  Although the pay cut hurts, at least I am safe and will see my child again.

Overall, DS [Diplomatic Security] was a great experience.  The work and the people were great.  The same goes for all of the Foreign Service and Civil Service colleagues that I had the pleasure of working with.  We hire some very talented people, but we don’t do a good job retaining them.  Our HR process is garbage.  [HR office is now officially the Bureau of Global Talent Management].

I understand that everyone has unique circumstances but just be aware that the programs that you think can help you cannot be relied upon.  By all means, try to stay with the foreign service if you like the job…had they been able to accommodate me until my issue was resolved I’d have done 20 and retired.  Your DS experience, training, and security clearance make you marketable to other agencies….keep trying and one will come through.  If DS (and the Dept. as a whole) were serious about retaining employees, they would fix the HR system.  I am now looking to see if I have any legal recourse; others shouldn’t have to go through this.  As a wise person said, “at the end of the day it is just a job”.  It was an interesting and rewarding job-but still just a job.  There is other good work out there.  If you think things may go bad, get your applications in.  Constantly have applications going with other agencies so you always have a parachute…that is what saved me.

Below are his “lessons learned,” shared for those who may be in similar circumstances:

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Burn Bag: Nomination For Most Self-Serving Vanity Cable of the Year

 

Via Burn Bag:

“The year’s not even half over, but here’s a nomination for the hands-down worst, most self-serving vanity cable of the year:  please see 20 REYKJAVIK 0266 . Yikes.”

Via reactiongifs.com

 

@StateDept Discovers Virtual OnBoarding/Oaths of Office/Training, Classes Will Now Continue

 

On April 5, 2020, Ambassador Ronald Neumann and Ambassador Dennis Jett wrote an op-ed on The Hill about the onboarding issue at the State Department which affected two incoming classes cancelled due to COVID-19:

Imagine the following situation: After a year-long hiring process, you get an offer to start your dream job in government. You quit your current position, terminate the lease on your apartment, pack up the spouse and kids and move to Washington to begin your new life.

But the dream quickly turns into a nightmare. No sooner do you check into your hotel than you are informed that your incoming class of new employees has been canceled because of COVID-19. And since you hadn’t formally started the job, you are not eligible for a paycheck. The only assistance your agency offers is a ticket home — the home that is no longer yours in the town where you are no longer employed.
[…]
That is the situation in which 90 people about to become new Foreign Service officers now find themselves. They were supposed to report for duty at the end of March, but the State Department abruptly told them that for an undetermined length of time they have no job.  

A second class of about an equal number of Foreign Service specialists is equally affected, bringing the total to roughly 175. It didn’t have to be this way. The Office of Personnel Management has advised federal agencies how the “on-boarding process” for new employees can be conducted virtually or remotely.
[…]
State argues, however, that even the first seven-week course that the officers take cannot be done remotely. That is simply not the case; there is no reason such training wouldn’t be as effective.

The Neumann/Jett op-ed has 1137 shares and 134 comments. The comment section, as can be expected these days, is like rumble in the jungle.
On May 1, 2020, DGHR Carol Perez also wrote an op-ed on The Hill, apparently timed for Foreign Affairs Day, to report that the State Department has discovered virtual onboarding, and virtual oaths of office, and that the postponed classes will now continue:

Thanks to our imaginative, committed colleagues, along with new flexibilities granted by the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget, the department is now able to carry out virtual oaths of office, virtual onboarding and virtual training for foreign service officers and specialists starting in May and continuing this summer. 

These new recruits will include candidates from the foreign service classes postponed in March and April. And I am pleased to report we already have virtually onboarded three civil service cohorts.

The Perez op-ed has 202 shares and 28 comments. Also a rumble in the jungle, tho, a smaller jungle.

#UnitedAgainstCoronavirus: “A Defining Moment For the Global Community” (Without the United States)

 

 

New Arms Control Special Envoy Marshall Billingslea Now Nominated as Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security (T)

 

On May 1st, the WH announced the president’s intent to nominate Marshall Billingslea to be the next Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security (T). Last month, Mr. Billingslea was appointed Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control. He was previously nominated as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J) in 2018; he had a confirmation hearing in 2019 but that nomination appeared to have gone nowhere.
If the J nomination did not go anywhere in a GOP-controlled Senate, why would this nomination fare any better?
In any case, if confirmed, he would oversee the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance; the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation and the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.  
The immediate predecessor to this position is Andrea L. Thompson who was appointed in 2018 and left her position the following year (see Pompeo Announces Departure of Andrea Thompson as Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security).  With the exception of career diplomats Reginald Bartholomew (1989–1992) and Frank G. Wisner II (1992–1993), all other appointees to the “T” bureau were political appointees. Click here for the names of previous appointees.

Via WH:

Marshall Billingslea, of Virginia, to be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security

Mr. Billingslea is the Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control at the State Department.  He has also recently served as an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing.

A former Managing Director at Deloitte, Mr. Billingslea has also served at the Department of Defense as Deputy Under Secretary of the Navy, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Negotiations Policy.  He was Assistant Secretary General for Defense Investment at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, and a Senior Professional Staff Member for National Security Affairs for the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Mr. Billingslea received the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service, the Cross of Merit of the Minister of Defence of the Czech Republic, and the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana of Estonia, among other awards.  Mr. Billingslea earned a B.A. from Dartmouth College, and an M.A. from The Fletcher School, Tufts University.

 

Related posts:

Top 10 Countries: @StateDept Repatriation of U.S. Citizens as of April 29, 2020

 

The State Department’s May 1st update notes that it has now coordinated the repatriation of 76,030 Americans on 810 flights from 126 countries and territories including  six flights from six countries in South and Central America repatriated approximately 800 U.S. citizens on April 30 and a charter flight from India carrying approximately 300 Americans arrived in the U.S. on May 1.
Based on the State Department’s data, Western Hemisphere countries based on number of U.S. citizens evacuated remain the top eight out of 10 countries.  India and Pakistan, both under the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) are the only non-WHA countries in the top 10 counties.

From Egypt and Turkey: Generous Medical Supplies For the United States

 

 

Also medical supplies from South Korea reportedly purchased by FEMA, and medical supplies from Russia initially purported to be aid but the State Department insisted this was a commercial transaction. (see Putin Sends Medical Supplies in “Largest Cargo Aircraft” to “World’s Largest Humanitarian Provider” – Wait, Wat?

@StateDept Suspends All PCS Travel Through May 31

A couple weeks ago, the State Department issued a guidance cable to all Department personnel concerning permanent change of station (PCS) travel and home leave through May 31, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Citing the “myriad uncertainties” and “travel and logistics restrictions”, the State Department  suspended all overseas and domestic PCS travel with very limited exceptions, effective through May 31. Transition from one Washington, D.C. assignment to another does not appear to be affected by this suspension.
This PCS suspension will reportedly be reviewed on May 20 and that this “period may be extended if the situation does not improve.”
The guidance says that exceptions to the suspension of PCS travel may be considered for certain employees like those on curtailments related to health, or mission critical employees (approved by bureau assistant secretary for certain countries, or by the Under Secretary for Management for CDC Level 3 countries or State Department Travel Advisory for Health Level 4 countries), or employees on direct to post transfers.
Diplomatic Security and medical personnel are considered mission critical and those employees are reportedly expected to PCS to their next overseas assignment, unless the Chief of Mission (COM) at the receiving post determines that “health and safety issues outweigh security concerns and prevents their arrival to post.” DS personnel are also told that they should be ready to remain at Post beyond their tour end-date if deemed necessary by their Chiefs of Mission.
The guidance encouraged employees to take their home leave between domestic and overseas assignments. At the conclusion of the home leave, employees are told to “be prepared to telework for their onward assignment at their home leave location.” The guidance further says that all employees are expected to work with their onward post and/or bureau to be assigned suitable duties for telework/remote work following Department protocols. Reiterating a prior cable, the guidance explains what supervisor can grant “weather and safety leave” to U.S. Direct Hires for those regular duty hours for which there is insufficient remote work to assign.
Additional guidance is reportedly expected to be published in the near future.