Former @StateDept Employee Pleads Guilty to Conspiring with Foreign Agents

Former @StateDept Employee Pleads Guilty to Conspiring with Foreign Agents

 

 

 

This is a follow-up post to a 2017 case concerning a State Department employee arrested for concealing extensive contacts with intelligence agents from China (see @StateDept OMS Charged With Concealing Extensive Contacts With Chinese Intel Agents). Last month, USDOJ announced that Claiborne pled guilty to conspiring with foreign agents. Sentencing is scheduled for for July 9, 2019.

Download Claiborne Plea Agreement

Via USDOJ:

Former State Department Employee Pleads Guilty to Conspiring with Foreign Agents

Defendant Admitted Receiving Tens of Thousands of Dollars in Benefits From Two Chinese Agents in Exchange for Internal State Department Documents
Candace Marie Claiborne, a former employee of the U.S. Department of State, pleaded guilty today to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States, by lying to law enforcement and background investigators, and hiding her extensive contacts with, and gifts from, agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), in exchange for providing them with internal documents from the U.S. State Department.

The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu of the District of Columbia, Assistant Director in Charge Nancy McNamara of the FBI’s Washington Field Office and Deputy Assistant Secretary Ricardo Colón, Domestic Operations, U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service.

The plea took place before the Honorable Randolph D. Moss of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“Candace Marie Claiborne traded her integrity and non-public information of the United States government in exchange for cash and other gifts from foreign agents she knew worked for the Chinese intelligence service,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers.  “She withheld information and lied repeatedly about these contacts.  Violations of the public’s trust are an affront to our citizens and to all those who honor their oaths.  With this guilty plea we are one step closer to imposing justice for these dishonorable criminal acts.”

“Candace Claiborne broke the public trust when she accepted gifts and money from foreign officials, and then lied about it to State Department background investigators,” said U.S. Attorney Liu. “The United States will continue to seek to hold accountable those who abuse their positions of trust.”

“Candace Claiborne was entrusted with Top Secret information when she purposefully misled federal investigators about her repeated interactions with foreign contacts which violated her oath of office as a State Department employee,” said Assistant Director McNamara.  “The FBI will continue to investigate individuals who fail to report foreign contacts, which is a key indicator of potential insider threats posed by those in positions of public trust.”

“Our close working relationship with the FBI and the Department of Justice resulted in the conviction of Candace Claiborne who violated the public trust and damaged our national security,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Colón.  “Diplomatic Security will continue working with our law enforcement partners to vigorously defend the interests and security of the United States of America.”

According to the plea documents, Claiborne, 63, began working as an Office Management Specialist for the Department of State in 1999.  She served overseas at a number of posts, including embassies and consulates in Baghdad, Iraq, Khartoum, Sudan, and Beijing and Shanghai, China.  As a condition of her employment, Claiborne maintained a TOP SECRET security clearance.  Claiborne also was required to report any contacts with persons suspected of affiliation with a foreign intelligence agency as well as any gifts she received from foreign sources over a certain amount.

Despite such a requirement, Claiborne failed to report repeated contacts with two agents of the People’s Republic of China Intelligence Service, even though these agents provided tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and benefits to Claiborne and her family over five years.  The gifts and benefits included cash wired to Claiborne’s USAA account, Chinese New Year’s gifts, international travel and vacations, tuition at a Chinese fashion school, a fully furnished apartment, a monthly stipend and numerous cash payments.  Some of these gifts and benefits were provided directly to Claiborne, while others were provided to a close family member of Claiborne’s.

In exchange for these gifts and benefits, as stated in the plea documents, Claiborne provided copies of internal documents from the State Department on topics ranging from U.S. economic strategies to visits by dignitaries between the two countries.

Claiborne noted in her journal that she could “Generate 20k in 1 year” working with one of the PRC agents.  That same agent at one point tasked her with providing internal U.S. Government analyses on a U.S.-Sino Strategic Economic Dialogue that had just concluded.

Claiborne, who confided to a co-conspirator that the PRC agents were “spies,” willfully misled State Department background investigators and FBI investigators about her contacts with those agents, the plea documents state.  After the State Department and FBI investigators contacted her, Claiborne also instructed her co-conspirators to delete evidence connecting her to the PRC agents.  She was arrested on March 28, 2017, following a law enforcement investigation.

Judge Moss scheduled sentencing for July 9, 2019.  Claiborne, of Washington, D.C., was ordered detained pending sentencing, but will self-surrender for said detention on June 5, 2019.  The statutory maximum penalty for a person convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States is five years in prison.  The maximum statutory sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes.  The sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court after considering the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The FBI’s Washington Field Office is leading the investigation into this matter.  The case was prosecuted by Thomas A. Gillice and investigated by John L. Hill, both Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, and Deputy Chief Julie A. Edelstein and Trial Attorney Evan N. Turgeon of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

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Visa Refusals Under INA §212(a)(4) For “Public Charge” Spiked in FY2018

In an April 24, 2019 meeting between the the Department of State and  the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the group asked the State Department/s Consular Affairs bureau about the public charge refusals for visa applicants.

AILA: Based on data provided by the Department of State, it appears that there were four times as many §212(a)(4) refusals in 2018 as compared to 2017. However, approximately the same proportion of initial refusals were overcome in both years. Thus, it appears that the total number of applicants unable to overcome the initial refusal rose significantly in 2018. Please confirm: a. Aside from guidance provided in the FAM, has State issued new or additional guidance in 2018 concerning how consular officers should evaluate eligibility under §212(a)(4)?

DOS: State hosted a series of webinars in 2018 and 2019 for consular officers reviewing the update to public charge eligibility, but other than the FAM update in 2018, there has been no additional formal guidance released on how to evaluate eligibility under §212(a)(4). b.

Visa applicants need to satisfy this provision of law by demonstrating proof of adequate financial support in the United States. A visa refusal, or ineligibility, under section 212(a)(4) of the INA means that the consular officer determined that the applicant is  likely to become a public charge in the United States. Public charge means that the consular officer determined that the applicant is  likely to become primarily dependent on the U.S. government for your existence and financial support in the United States. Most immigrant visa applicants are required to submit an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864, I-864A, I-864W, or I-864EZ, as applicable) from the U.S. sponsors who filed petitions for them. Some categories of immigrant visa applicants are not required to have Affidavits of Support. These are categories where no U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident relative filed a petition on your behalf, including most employment-based immigrants and diversity visa (DV) applicants.

Below are the number of visa refusals under the public charge grounds for FY2017 and FY2018:

click on image to see larger view

click on image to see larger view

 

 

In January 2018, the Department released an unclassified cable 18 STATE 942 January 4, 2018 with an Update to 9 FAM 302.8 Public Charge – INA 212(A)(4): Excerpt below with the relevant section.

3. INA 212(a)(4)(B) continues to provide that officers must take into account the totality of the alien’s circumstances at the time of visa application, including, at a minimum: (a) age, (b) health, (c) family status, (d) assets, resources, financial status, and (e) education and skills. As revised, 9 FAM 302.8-2(B)(2) now includes detailed guidance to help officers assess these statutory factors when considering the totality of the applicant’s circumstances. For instance, 9 FAM 302.8-2(B)(2)(f)(1)(b)(i) provides that an officer may consider “past or current receipt of public assistance of any type” in determining whether an applicant is likely to become a public charge, although officers must make a determination based on the present circumstances. Consequently, an applicant’s current receipt of public assistance may not raise significant future concerns, based on the totality of circumstances. For example, if the applicant just completed an educational degree and received a credible job offer, the applicant’s education and skills might provide a sufficient basis to find that the applicant overcomes any public charge ineligibility concerns in spite of current lack of assets. Alternatively, an applicant’s past receipt of public assistance could be very significant: for example, if the applicant’s spouse was the family’s primary income earner, but recently died. In this case, the applicant’s recent change in family status and likely change in financial status would weigh heavily in considering the totality of the circumstances.

4. Additionally, 9 FAM 302.8-2(B)(3), paragraph b, as revised provides that a “properly filed and sufficient, non-fraudulent” Affidavit of Support by itself may not satisfy the INA 212(a)(4) public charge requirement. The Affidavit of Support requirement at INA 213A and the public charge ineligibility at INA 212(a)(4) are distinct requirements which, where both are applicable, must both be satisfied. Accordingly, a properly filed and sufficient Affidavit of Support is essential, but does not preclude denial on public charge grounds. Officers should consider such affidavits as one factor in the totality of the applicant’s circumstances, and, may find the applicant is likely to become a public charge if, for example, the applicant is in very poor health, is unable to work, and is likely to incur significant medical costs. Similarly, if an applicant does not clearly overcome public charge concerns but could with a joint sponsor, then a consular officer’s evaluation of the likelihood the joint sponsor would voluntarily meet his or her financial obligations toward the applicant becomes vital to the adjudication. See 9 FAM 302.8- 2(B)(3)(b)(1)(b). 5. The updated guidance at 9 FAM 302.8 is effective immediately.

 

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EEOC: Sex Discrimination and Reprisal Found in USAID Case

Via The Digest of Equal Employment Opportunity Law | Volume 1Fiscal Year 2019

Complainant must satisfy a three-part evidentiary scheme to prevail on a claim of disparate treatment sex and reprisal discrimination.  McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). First, Complainant must establish a prima facie case by demonstrating that s/he was subjected to an adverse employment action under circumstances that would support an inference of discrimination.  McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802; Furnco Constr. Co. v. Waters, 438 U.S. 567, 576 (1978). Second, the burden is on the Agency to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory, reason for its actions. Tex. Dep’t of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981).  Third, should the Agency carry its burden, Complainant must then have an opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the Agency were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination.  McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 804; St. Mary’s Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502 (1993).”

Sex Discrimination & Reprisal Found.

Complainant, a Senior Fellow, filed an EEO complaint alleging that she was discriminated against based on sex (pregnancy), and reprisal, when her supervisor (S1) made disparaging remarks about her pregnancy; subjected her to increased scrutiny and reporting requirements related to her telework; required her to apply leave retroactively to dates and times when S1 knew she worked; terminated her alternate work schedule (AWS); and did not extend her fellowship. The Commission found that Complainant established a prima facie case of sex and reprisal discrimination, and then demonstrated that the Agency’s reasons were pretext for discrimination. Regarding Complainant’s telework reports, the record showed that she submitted extensive narratives, and clearly met the reporting requirements. Additionally, emails between Complainant and S1 showed that he knew she was working more than eight hours a day, but still asked her to take leave, and did not approve all her work hours. S1 stated that he denied Complainant an AWS due to a lack of coverage. However, the record showed that Complainant was meeting her work requirements, and that she was responsive and accountable while using workplace flexibilities. The Commission found that the Agency did not articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for not renewing her fellowship because S1’s assertion that Complainant had performance problems was not supported by any documentation. Further, Complainant had shown pretext because management’s responses were inconsistent. Accordingly, the Commission concluded that the preponderance of the evidence supported Complainant’s claim that she was subjected to sex and reprisal discrimination. The Agency was ordered, among other things, to provide Complainant with a fellowship, or similar position, with an opportunity to extend on a yearly basis (similar to other fellows); conduct a supplemental investigation to determine compensatory damages; and provide training to the responsible management officials. Reita M. v. Agency for Int’l Dev., EEOC Appeal No. 0120161608 (July 17, 2018).

EEOC Finds @StateDept’s Denial of Reasonable Accommodation and Disability Discrimination Unlawful

 

Via The Digest of Equal Employment Opportunity Law | Volume 1Fiscal Year 2019

The federal government, including the Agency, is charged with being a “model employer” of individuals with disabilities. See 29 C.F.R.  1614.203(a). Inherent in this duty is an obligation to break down artificial barriers which preclude individuals with disabilities from participating on an equal footing in the work force. Accordingly, the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to make various types of “”reasonable accommodation” for federal employees who have disabilities. This requirement helps ensure that such federal employees will be able to perform the essential functions of their positions, and enjoy all the benefits and privileges of employment enjoyed by non-disabled employees. See Appendix to Part 1630 – Interpretive Guidance on Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“Appendix to Part 1630″), at Section 1630.2(o): Reasonable Accommodation.” (via)

Via ssa.gov

Denial of Reasonable Accommodation & Disability Discrimination Found.

Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging, among other things, that the Agency denied him reasonable accommodation, and discriminated against him based on his disability when it rated him “unsuccessful” on his performance evaluation. On appeal, the Commission found that the Agency failed to show that providing any of Complainant’s many requested reasonable accommodations would cause an undue hardship. The Agency’s broad rejections did not reflect the specificity required of an individualized assessment, nor a consideration of the factors comprising an undue hardship. Further, the Commission noted its concern with the Agency’s lack of participation in the interactive process. The Agency not only rejected Complainant’s numerous suggestions, but it failed to suggest any alternatives and blamed Complainant for the alleged breakdown in the interactive process. The Commission further found that Complainant’s “unsuccessful” rating was also discriminatory. While the record contained evidence of Complainant’s ongoing performance problems throughout the year, including numerous emails from his supervisor, the Commission observed that some of the emails followed Complainant’s requests for accommodation. Moreover, the major life activities that were impacted by Complainant’s PTSD, for which he was seeking a reasonable accommodation, were the same skills identified by management as needing improvement (i.e. focus, concentration, and avoiding distractions). Among other things, the Agency was ordered to immediately take all steps necessary in accordance with Commission regulations to provide Complainant with reasonable accommodation; to rescind and expunge the unsuccessful rating; and to determine Complainant’s entitlement to compensatory damages. The Commission affirmed the Agency’s finding that Complainant failed to prove his claim of harassment. Wilmer M. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120160352 (Feb. 22, 2018).

Denial of Reasonable Accommodation & Reprisal Discrimination Found.

Complainant, who had a mixed connective tissue disease, alleged she was denied a reasonable accommodation, and subjected to reprisal when the Agency included certain elements in her work commitments. Complainant requested to telework an additional day each week due to her extended commute and per her doctor’s recommendation. However, Complainant was placed on a new team with “face-to-face” and “physically available” commitments. On appeal, the Commission found that Complainant could perform essential function of her job with a reasonable accommodation of telecommuting. Complainant identified a reasonable accommodation of telecommuting two days a week and fully complied with Agency procedures. Rather than provide the requested accommodation, however, the Agency denied Complainant’s request, and only months later granted situational telework. The Commission found that this was ineffective, because Complainant’s condition merited consistent telework to address her symptoms and to prevent exacerbation of her condition. While Agency managers indicated that there was not sufficient work for Complainant to do while teleworking, no basis was shown for this assertion. The Commission cited significant issues with the manner in which the Agency engaged in the interactive process, including continuing to require further medical documentation despite the fact that the Agency already had the information in its possession. The Commission concluded that the Agency did not make a good faith effort to provide Complainant with reasonable accommodation. The Commission also found that Complainant was subjected to reprisal when her work commitments were revised to include terms like “face to face” and “physically available.” The Commission noted the close temporal proximity between Complainant’s request for reasonable accommodation and the change in her work commitments, and stated that Complainant was the only employee impacted by the reassignment whose new commitments evinced a clear disapproval of telework. The Agency was ordered, among other things, to provide Complainant with the option of teleworking two days per week if she still occupied her position or a similar position, investigate Complainant’s claim for damages, and provide appropriate training for the responsible management officials. Alejandrina L. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120152145 (Nov. 16, 2017).

 

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Grievant Prevails Over Diplomatic Security’s Duplicative Disciplinary Actions

 

Via FSGB Case No. 2018-027

HELD – The Board held that the Department failed to meet its burden of proving that it did not violate agency policy when it imposed a second round of discipline (a two-day suspension without pay) after grievant had previously received several oral admonishments) for the same act of misconduct.

… Grievant accessed the CCD and reviewed the female friend’s visa records. He then sent an email on May 24, 2013 to the Consular Officer who had adjudicated the visa application, asking why the visa had not been approved and whether there was anything the applicant could do to “overcome” the disapproval.

The email read in part:

I explained to [the inquiring REDACTED Official] that the visa issuance process is an independent process done by the consular section at the respective embassy [sic] and that I have no involvement in the process or adjudication of the application, but that I would check with the embassy to see if there was anything that she could do or provide to overcome the refusal. Is there anything the applicant could do or provide to overcome the 214(B) refusal? Or is it pretty solid given no local employment and only having recently started her studies in business admin?

Grievant did not receive a response to his inquiry and he took no further action

CASE SUMMARY – In May 2013, grievant, a Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Agent, received a request from a professional colleague inquiring about a visa denial of a female friend of another colleague. Grievant accessed the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) to determine who the Consular Officer was for the visa denial and drafted an email to that officer inquiring whether there was anything his contact could do regarding the denial. Within a few days, the Visa Chief at the post that made the visa decision, wrote to the Consular Integrity Division of DS (DS/CID) advising that grievant had apparently accessed the CCD without a work related need to do so. DS/CID passed the matter to the Chief of the Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence, Criminal Division (DS/ICI/CR). The Chief of DS/ICI/CR consulted with the Supervisory Special Agent of DS/CID and with the Chief of the Criminal Fraud Investigations Branch (CFI) before deciding to refer the matter to grievant’s immediate supervisors for whatever action they deemed appropriate.

Two of grievant’s supervisors opened administrative inquiries in June 2013, contacted grievant, learned from him that he immediately acknowledged the improper access of the CCD and each decided to give grievant an oral admonishment. One additional supervisor also admonished grievant orally. All management officials concluded that no further action was necessary. Grievant was so informed by at least two of these officials.

In the fall of 2014, the DS Office of Special Investigations (DS/OSI) informed grievant that it was opening an investigation into the same matter. During an interview with grievant and his counsel, grievant advised that he had already been counseled for this act of misconduct. He provided proof that he had been admonished; however, he was proposed for a three-day suspension that was later mitigated to two days. The suspension proposal was sustained by the Department and grievant served the two-day suspension.

A grievance regarding duplicative discipline was denied by the agency. On appeal, the Board concluded that all regulatory steps had been followed by grievant’s supervisor who initially determined that he was the appropriate official, in consultation with others at DS, to determine what discipline should be imposed. The Board further concluded that administrative inquiries were properly conducted by additional supervisors after evidence was gathered, grievant was consulted, and all appropriate factors were considered. The Board found that specific agency policy precluded grievant from being subjected to a second disciplinary process. Accordingly, the Board held that the Department was obligated to refund grievant’s pay and benefits lost during the suspension; his Official Performance Folder should have all references to the suspension proposal and decision removed; and that grievant’s OPF should be reviewed by reconstituted Selection Boards for each year (2017 and possibly 2018) in which the suspension letter was in the file.

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EEOC Damages Increased in Two @StateDept Cases

Via The Digest of Equal Employment Opportunity Law | Volume 1Fiscal Year 2019

Commission Increased Award of Compensatory Damages to $50,000. The Commission previously determined that Complainant was discriminated against when the Agency failed to grant him a medical clearance based on its “worldwide availability” requirement. Following a supplemental investigation, the Agency awarded Complainant $5,000 in non-pecuniary compensatory damages noting that Complainant did not provide any medical evidence to support his claim. The Commission increased the award to $50,000 on appeal. Complainant stated that he became despondent, depressed, and reclusive because of the Agency’s discriminatory actions. Complainant experienced sleeplessness, crying spells, weight loss, anger, and humiliation. Complainant’s husband and friends submitted statements supporting his claim. The Commission determined that an award of $50,000 in nonpecuniary compensatory damages was more appropriate given the nature, severity and duration of the distress Complainant experienced as a direct result of the discrimination. Harvey D. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120171079 (Aug. 23, 2018).

Commission Increased Award of Non-Pecuniary Damages to $50,000. The Commission previously found that Complainant was subjected to sexual harassment by her supervisor and ordered the Agency, among other things, to investigate Complainant’s claim for damages. The Agency awarded Complainant $20,000 in non-pecuniary damages, and the Commission increased the award to $50,000 on appeal. The Commission noted that, more likely than not, the sexual harassment was not the only factor that caused Complainant’s depression and anxiety. Complainant’s brother was executed in the Middle East, and Complainant also noted that her co-workers questioned her reputation because of the way she dressed. Nevertheless, the Commission found that the sexual harassment was a significant reason for the ridicule Complainant experienced, as well as her depression, poor self-esteem, irritability, anger, difficulty sleeping, exhaustion, weight gain, and thoughts of suicide. The Commission noted that, seven months after the harassment ceased Complainant was able to form a romantic relationship, and she continued working at the Agency. Considering all of these factors, the Commission concluded that Complainant was entitled to an award of $50,000 in non-pecuniary damages. The Commission concurred with the Agency that Complainant failed to prove her claim for pecuniary damages. Blanca B. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120171031 (Aug. 16, 2018).

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OSC’s Hatch Act Guidance: No Advocacy For/Against Impeachment, No #Resist, #ResistTrump Use

 

On November 27, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) — not Robert Mueller’s but the federal agency with authorities to investigate cases related to the Civil Service Reform Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Hatch Act, and the Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) — issued a new guidance regarding political activity. It says that  its Hatch Act Unit has received several questions regarding whether the following constitute “political activity” for purposes of the Hatch Act:

1. Is strong criticism or praise of an administration’s policies and actions considered political activity?

Criticism or praise that is directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group is political activity. Absent evidence that the criticism or praise is so directed, criticism or praise of an administration’s policies and actions is not considered political activity. Whether a particular statement constitutes political activity depends upon the facts and circumstances.

Consider, for example, the administration’s recent decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. An employee who strongly criticizes or praises that decision during a workplace discussion with a colleague in the days immediately following the decision is less likely to be engaging in political activity than one making those same statements in the run-up to the next presidential election—when the decision will likely have been out of the news for several years—to a colleague that the employee knows has strong feelings about
the subject.

Read more here.

2. Is advocating for or against impeachment of a candidate for federal office considered political activity?

Yes. Read more here.

3. Is activity related to “the Resistance” considered political activity?

To the extent that the statement relates to resistance to President Donald J. Trump, usage of the terms “resistance,” “#resist,” and derivatives thereof is political activity. We understand that the “resistance” and “#resist” originally gained prominence shortly after President Trump’s election in 2016 and generally related to efforts to oppose administration policies. However, “resistance,” “#resist,” and similar terms have become inextricably linked with the electoral success (or failure) of the president. During the period when President Trump was not considered by OSC to be a candidate for reelection the terms did not raise any Hatch Act concerns. Now that President Trump is a candidate for reelection, we must presume that the use or display of “resistance,” “#resist,” “#resistTrump,” and similar statements is political activity unless the facts and circumstances indicate otherwise.

Note that this presumption is only relevant to employee conduct that takes place on duty, in the workplace, while wearing an agency uniform or insignia, or while invoking any official authority or influence. Provided that they comply with the Hatch Act’s restrictions, employees are free to engage in political activity while off-duty and away from the federal workplace.

In OSC’s example, if you tweet “I must #resist the temptation to eat another donut from the break room” – you would not/not be engaging in political activity but OSC would presume that “the use or display of the hashtags #resist and #resistTrump, in isolation, is political activity under the Hatch Act.”  Read in full here.

The thing is, Foreign Service folks are considered on duty 24/7, so what does this guidance means in the real world? We’ve asked the OSC; will update if we hear anything back.

You may also call the Hatch Act Unit at 202-804-7002 or send an e-mail to Hatchact@osc.gov  for your Hatch Act-related questions.

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@StateDept’s Retaliatory Security Clearance Revocation Now Punishable By [INSERT Three Guesses]

 

In July, we blogged about a short item in the latest State/OIG Semi-Annual Report to Congress that indicates it substantiated an allegation of a security clearance revocation in retaliation for an employee’s whistleblowing activity under PPD-19. State/OIG recommended that the whistleblower’s security clearance be reinstated. See State/OIG Finds @StateDept Revoked Security Clearance in Retaliation For Whistleblowing

On July 20, 2018, an unclassified memo jointly signed by Deputy Secretary John Sullivan and State/OIG Steve Linick was released by the Deputy Secretary’s office (with a Whistleblower Info flyer). The memo says in part:

Whistleblowers perform a critically important service to the Department of State and to the public when they disclose fraud, waste, and abuse. The Department is committed to protecting all personnel against reprisal for whistleblowing.

The attached memorandum describes how to make a whistleblowing disclosure and the legal protections that exist for whistleblowers, including Foreign and Civil Service employees and employees of Department contractors and grantees. The memorandum also describes how to file a complaint if you believe you have been subject to improper retaliation.

The memo also identifies the Whistleblower Ombudsman for the State Department as  Jeff McDermott:

The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 requires Inspectors General to designate a Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman. Jeff McDermott has been designated as the Whistleblower Ombudsman for the Department. He is available to discuss the protections against retaliation and how to make a protected disclosure, but he cannot act as your legal representative or advocate. You may contact him atWPEAOmbuds@stateoig.gov.

The memo concludes with a reminder that State Department employees “have a right” to communicate directly with the OIG, and provides contact details:

Remember that Department employees always have a right to communicate directly with OIG. The OIG hotline number is 800-409-9926, and the hotline website is https://oig.state.gov/hotline. OIG’s main website is https://oig.state.gov/.

We suspect that this memo may have been prompted by the IG report to the Congress that an employee had his/her security clearance revoked in retaliation for whistleblowing.

So we wrote to the Whistleblower Ombudsman Jeff McDermott with our congratulations, and, of course to ask a couple of simple questions:

Citing the Sullivan-Linick memo, we asked how is this going to discourage retaliation on whistleblowers when we don’t know what consequences officials face when they are the perpetrators of such retaliation?

Given the latest example of an employee whose security clearance was revoked in retaliation for whistleblowing, we asked if anyone at the State Department has disciplined for doing so?

Since we did not get a response from the Whistleblower Ombudsman, we asked State/OIG for comment last month and was told the following:

Please note that there are different disclosure and review processes for contractor and employee whistleblower retaliation allegations. There is also a different review process for allegations of whistleblower retaliation in the form of actions that have affected an employee’s security clearance. OIG primarily reviews contractor whistleblower and security clearance retaliation allegations, while the Office of Special Counsel generally reviews employee retaliation allegations.

Congress enacted a new provision last year that requires an agency to suspend for at least 3 days a supervisor found to have engaged in a prohibited personnel practice, such as whistleblower retaliation, and to propose removal of a supervisor for the second prohibited personnel practice. OIG believes that these new provisions will demonstrate that there are serious consequences for whistleblower retaliation.

The case you are referring to is a retaliatory security clearance revocation case, and the decision about what action to take has not yet been determined by the Department.

So it’s now September. If the State Department believes, as the memo states that “Whistleblowers perform a critically important service to the Department of State and to the public” we really would like to know what the State Department has done to the official/officials responsible for this retaliatory security clearance revocation.

 

Related posts:

@StateDept Issues Guidance For Gender Change in U.S. Passports

Posted: 12:03 pm ET

 

We’ve seen reports about the revocation of U.S. passports of at least two transwomen. Revocation typically means the bearer of the passport is not a U.S. national, and that is permanent. Denial of passport applications on the other hand could mean new/additional documents are required before adjudication of the application is completed.  In any case, we’ve asked the State Department for comment about this news and we received the following response from an official, on background:

We have seen reports of a few transgender individuals having difficulty renewing their passports. The Department has not changed policy or practice regarding the adjudication of passport applications for transgender individuals.  While we cannot comment on individual passport applications due to privacy concerns, the Department addresses cases individually, and strives to treat all applicants with dignity and respect. We have provided passport services to transgender individuals for many years, and have extensive instructions for such applications on our website. We cannot comment on individual cases, but are not aware of any revocations of passports for transgender individuals.

The State Department’s travel.state.gov page has a webpage for gender designation change here.

On June 27, 2018, the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA/PPT/S/A) did issue a policy guidance on Gender Change that appears new with no superseding guidance as best we could tell. They are now now incorporated in the Foreign Affairs Manual under 8 FAM 403.3. So we asked the State Department if this is new guidance and we were told the following:

The Department has not changed policy or practice regarding the adjudication of passport applications for transgender individuals.  The Department’s policy guidelines were introduced on June 10, 2010. Since that point, medical certification of final gender reassignment surgery was no longer a requirement for issuance of a passport in the changed gender. Certification from an attending medical physician stating that the applicant has undergone appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition is acceptable. If CA receives an appropriate certification that transition is complete from a licensed physician, a full-validity passport will be issued.

Per 8 FAM 403.3 dated June 27, 2017 note the following:

a. This subchapter provides policy and procedures that passport specialists and consular officers (“you”) must follow when an applicant indicates a gender on the “sex” line on the passport application with information different from the one reflected on some or all of the submitted citizenship and/or identity evidence, including a prior passport.

b. This policy explains the need for medical certification from a licensed physician who has treated the applicant or reviewed and evaluated the medical history of the applicant regarding the change in gender, as well as the need for accurate identification and a photograph reflecting the applicants current appearance. It is based on standards and recommendations of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), recognized as the authority in this field by the American Medical Association (AMA).

c. A passport is defined by INA 101(a)(30) (Immigration and Nationality Act) (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(30)) as “any travel document issued by competent authority showing the bearer’s origin, identity, and nationality if any, which is valid for the entry of the bearer into a foreign country.” An individual’s gender is an integral part of that person’s identity.

d. Sex reassignment surgery is not a prerequisite for passport issuance based on gender change.

e. Medical certification of gender transition from a licensed physician as described in 8 FAM 403.3-2 is the only documentation of gender change required. Other medical records must not be requested.

f. A form DS-11 Application for U.S. Passport must be used the first time an applicant applies for a passport in reassigned gender, as personal appearance for execution is required, even if the applicant has a previous passport. A change in gender is a change in the identity of the applicant, and evidence of identity in the new name (if applicable) and gender must be presented. Subsequent applications in the same gender may be submitted on a form DS-82 if the applicant is eligible (see 8 FAM 702.2 regarding eligibility to apply on a form DS-82 and 8 FAM 403.3-3(D) regarding resumption of the birth gender).

The State Department official on background told us that If CA receives an appropriate certification that transition is complete from a licensed physician, a full-validity passport will be issued.”

The June 27  guidance notes that “A full validity U.S. passport will be issued reflecting a new gender upon presentation of a signed, original certification or statement, on office letterhead, from a licensed physician who has treated the applicant for her/his gender-related care or reviewed and evaluated the gender-related medical history of the applicant.” It does not mention the requirement for full transition. When we seek clarification, the same State Department official on background told us the following:

If an applicant is in the beginning stages of transition, a limited passport will be issued to the individual. This can be replaced within two years from the date of issuance for a full validity passport at no-cost to the applicant once CA receives medical certification of the appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition.

The June 27 guidance also says that “The applicant is not required to obtain an amended birth record, amended Consular Report of Birth (CRBA), or to request that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issue a replacement Certificate of Naturalization/Citizenship reflecting the change of gender.”   But also that “State law in the United States and the laws of other countries vary on whether an amended birth certificate may be issued reflecting a gender change”.  

Applicants are required to provide primary and secondary IDs in their new gender. Th guidance says “Some form of photographic ID must be presented; You cannot use the doctor’s certification as the only evidence to identify an applicant.”

Medical certifications from persons who are not licensed physicians (e.g. psychologists; physician assistants; nurse practitioners; and others) are not/not acceptable.

8 FAM 403.3-8  has the sample letter for licensed physicians certifying to the applicant’s gender change/transition.

The guidance also includes a section on “conversations with passport applicants seeking to document gender change/transition”, for passport adjudicators:

1) As with all passport applicants, you must be sensitive and respectful at all times;
2) Refer to the applicant by the pronoun appropriate to her/his new gender even if the transition is not complete.
3) Ask only appropriate questions regarding information necessary to determine citizenship and identity of the applicant.

Read more here.

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State/OIG Finds @StateDept Revoked Security Clearance in Retaliation For Whistleblowing

 

Via State/OIG

OIG did not substantiate any allegations of whistleblower retaliation related to Department contractors or grantees. However, OIG did substantiate an allegation of a security clearance revocation in retaliation for whistleblowing activity under PPD-19. As required by the Foreign Affairs Manual, OIG reported its findings to the Under Secretary for Management. The report recommended that the whistleblower’s security clearance be reinstated.

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Presidential Policy Directive-19 (PPD-19) PDF

The brief note from State/OIG’s semi-annual report includes little details about a security clearance revocation, not suspension. According to 12 FAM 233.4, suspension is an independent administrative procedure that does not represent a final determination and does not trigger the procedures outlined in 12 FAM 234, which includes revocation.  With revocation, the Department may determine that immediate suspension without pay from employment under 5 U.S.C. 7532 is deemed advisable.

After State/OIG’s referral to “M”, the Under Secretary for Management will reportedly transmit the IG materials to the Security Appeals Panel, “if one is convened in the matter, and to other Department officials as appropriate” according to the Foreign Affairs Manual.

Note that the State Department does not have a Senate-confirmed “M” as of this writing. We want to know if the security clearance is not reinstated per OIG recommendation.

State/OIG’s semi-annual report also does not include information on consequences for the individual/individuals who perpetrated the revocation of this whistleblower’s security clearance in retaliation for whistleblowing activity.

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