@StateDept Updates Application of U.S. Citizenship Transmission in Assisted Reproductive Technology

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Via state.gov:

Recognizing the advances in assisted reproductive technology (ART), the State Department is updating our interpretation and application of Section 301 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which establishes the requirements for acquisition of U.S. citizenship at birth.

Children born abroad to parents, at least one of whom is a U.S. citizen and who are married to each other at the time of the birth, will be U.S. citizens from birth if they have a genetic or gestational tie to at least one of their parents and meet the INA’s other requirements. Previously, the Department’s interpretation and application of the INA required that children born abroad have a genetic or gestational relationship to a U.S. citizen parent.

This updated interpretation and application of the INA takes into account the realities of modern families and advances in ART from when the Act was enacted in 1952.

This change will allow increased numbers of married couples to transmit U.S. citizenship to their children born overseas, while continuing to follow the citizenship transmission requirements established in the INA. Requirements for children born to unmarried parents remain unchanged.

At the same time, we remain vigilant to the risks of citizenship fraud, exploitation, and abuse. As with all citizenship and immigration benefits we examine, the Department will implement this policy in a manner that addresses these concerns.

8 FAM 304.3 Acquisition of U.S. Citizenship at Birth – Assisted Reproductive Technology has been updated.

8 FAM 304.3-1  BIRTH ABROAD TO A U.S. CITIZEN GESTATIONAL MOTHER WHO IS ALSO THE LEGAL MOTHER AT THE TIME SHE GIVES BIRTH (Birth mother, but NOT genetic mother)
(CT:CITZ-33;   04-03-2020)

a. A child born abroad to a U.S. citizen gestational mother who is also the legal parent of the child at the time of birth in the location of birth, whose genetic parents are an anonymous egg donor and the U.S. citizen husband of the gestational legal mother, is considered for citizenship purposes to be a person born in wedlock of two U.S. citizens, with a citizenship claim adjudicated under the Immigration and nationality Act (INA) 301(c).

b. A child born abroad to a U.S. citizen gestational mother who is the legal parent of the child at the time of birth in the location of birth, whose genetic parents are an anonymous sperm donor and the U.S. citizen wife of the gestational legal mother, is considered for citizenship purposes to be a person born in wedlock of two U.S. citizens, with a citizenship claim adjudicated under INA 301(c).

c.  A child born abroad to a U.S. citizen gestational mother who is the legal parent of the child at the time of birth in the location of birth, whose genetic parents are an anonymous egg donor and the non-U.S. citizen husband of the gestational legal mother, is considered for citizenship purposes to be a person born in wedlock of a U.S. citizen mother and alien father, with a citizenship claim adjudicated under INA 301(g).

d. A child born abroad to a U.S. citizen gestational mother who is the legal parent of the child at the time of birth in the location of birth, and who is not married to the genetic mother or father of the child at the time of the child’s birth, is considered for citizenship purposes to be a person born out of wedlock of a U.S. citizen mother, with a citizenship claim adjudicated under INA 309(c).

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State/OIG: Accountability of Official and Diplomatic Passports Needs Improvement

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State/OIG issued its Management Assistance Report: Accountability of Official and Diplomatic Passports of Separating Employees Needs Improvement this week.
According to the OIG, in December 2020, after it announced an audit of official and diplomatic passport records, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) was alerted that a former Department of State employee, a political appointee, allegedly kept their diplomatic passport after separating from the Department and wanted to use it in their new role with another U.S. Government organization.

Specifically: “A politically appointed Senior Advisor separated from the Department in November 2019. In 2020, President Trump appointed the former advisor to a role with another U.S. government organization. A representative from the new organization contacted the appointee’s former Department bureau because the political appointee was in possession of a diplomatic passport. The representative wanted to know whether the appointee could travel on behalf of the new organization using this diplomatic passport. The representative was informed by a bureau official that the appointee should not use the diplomatic passport.”

Excerpt from the MAR:

(U) During an audit of CA’s official and diplomatic passport records, OIG was alerted that a former Department employee had allegedly not surrendered their diplomatic passport upon separation from the Department and wanted to use it in a new role with another U.S. Government organization.24 According to the FAM, entitlement to an official or diplomatic passport ends when the employee separates from the Department, and the passport must be surrendered for cancellation.25

U) OIG found that the former employee’s diplomatic passport was listed as “issued” in ACRQ and had not been electronically cancelled by SIA. Based on that information, OIG performed additional steps to determine whether SIA had cancelled other employees’ official and diplomatic passports once separated from the Department. Specifically, OIG selected a sample of 134 official and diplomatic passports issued to employees who subsequently separated from the Department between November 2017 and September 2020. OIG found that 57 of 134 (43 percent) passports had not been electronically cancelled by SIA after the employee separated. Moreover, of the 57 that had not been electronically cancelled, 47 (82 percent) of the passports had not expired as of February 1, 2021, meaning they could still be valid.

(U) One reason for the deficiencies identified is that Department bureaus and offices did not always maintain proper accountability of passports and could not confirm whether separating employees had surrendered their passports for cancellation. When an employee’s entitlement to an official or diplomatic passport ends, but the passport is not surrendered or cancelled, the individual could misuse the passport, such as misrepresenting themselves as a representative of the U.S. Government. Doing so is a criminal offense.26

(U) Separated Employees’ Official and Diplomatic Passports

(U) Based upon a Bureau of Global Talent Management list of employees who had separated from the Department between November 2017 and September 2020, OIG identified 4,714 official and diplomatic passports associated with those employees. OIG selected a sample of 134 passports to test. 27 OIG found that 57 of 134 (43 percent) passports had not been electronically cancelled by SIA. In addition, of those 57 passports, 47 (82 percent) had not expired, as of February 1, 2021, meaning they could stil l be valid. 28 For example, one employee separated from the Department in December 2017, but the employee’s diplomatic passport was not scheduled to expire until April 2022- more than 4 years after separating from the Department.

OIG apparently followed up with 3 bureaus and 1 office to determine whether 17 former Department employees had surrendered their passport(s) and whether the bureaus or office had requested that SIA cancel the passports in accordance with the FAM. The follow-up revealed the following:

Two former CA employees:  “OIG identified two former CA employees who had diplomatic passports listed as “issued” in ACRQ. According to CA’s employee check-out list, employees are required to return special-issuance passports to SIA that were issued to them and to their family members upon separation and obtain the signature of an SIA staff member. SIA has no record of either of these two passports being returned for cancellation after the employees separated.”

Two former Office of the Secretary employees: “OIG identified two former Office of the Secretary employees who had diplomatic passports listed as “issued” in ACRQ. These two individuals had four passports issued to them. The Office of the Secretary’s employee check-out form requires departing employees to return their special-issuance passports and have the form initialed by the Office of the Secretary’s budget and travel office staff. An Office of the Secretary official stated that the office would have been in possession of three of the identified passports because the office maintains the diplomatic passports of people who travel with the Secretary of State. Because the three passports could not be found in the office, the official assumed that they were physically cancelled and returned to the individual. The Office of the Secretary could not provide information on the fourth passport. The Office of the Secretary official stated that a memorandum would have accompanied each passport to SIA for cancellation, but copies of the memoranda were not maintained .”(what the what? italics added).

Eleven former DS employees:  “OIG identified 11 former Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) employees who had diplomatic passports listed as “issued” in ACRQ. These 11 individuals had 16 passports issued to them, including 2 that were issued to a former Assistant Secretary. DS’s employee check-out form requires employees to return to the Employee Services Center or contact SIA about special-issuance passports that were issued to them and to their family members upon separation. A DS official stated that the two passports issued to the former Assistant Secretary were collected before he separated from the Department, but DS had not returned them to SIA. The DS official stated that a former employee, who returned as a PSC, claimed to have lost one passport but there was no comment on her second passport and another employee’s passport had been returned to CA. Three former DS employees had returned four passports in total to their DS offices; however, DS could not locate an additional passport for one of these individuals and an additional two passports for another of these individuals. The DS official further stated that DS did not have records for two of the people associated with two passports. DS may have facilitated the issuance of these passports, but they were not DS employees. DS did not provide information on the remaining 2 of 16 passports.”

OIG recommends that the Bureau of Consular Affairs “improve accountability over special-issuance passports by updating the Foreign Affairs Manual and any other relevant policy documents to require that (a) all Department of State bureaus and offices that participate in the Special Issuance Passport Program either (1) physically cancel special-issuance passports (including secondary passports) issued to a separating employee and email the Special Issuance Agency (SIA) a copy of the physically cancelled data page requesting that the passport(s) be electronically cancelled (along with returning the passport to SIA for destruction if not returned to the separating employee) or (2) if appropriate, file the special-issuance passport with SIA and (b) the Special Issuance Agency confirm that all special-issuance passports issued to the separating employee have been included in the cancellation request and electronically cancel all additional passport(s) as appropriate.”
Consular Affairs concurred with the recommendation, stating that it “will propose updates to the FAM and to the Special Issuance Passport Program.”  The bureau will also “update SIA’s cancellation and destruction SOP to confirm that all special-issuance passports issued to a separating employee have been included in the cancellation request and electronically cancel all additional passports as appropriate.”

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@StateDept Updates 12 FAM 233.4 Suspension of Security Clearance #NoTDYs

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🆕 12 FAM 233.4  Suspension of Security Clearance
(CT:DS-359;   04-27-2021)
a. When derogatory information is received regarding an employee with access to classified information, the director of the Diplomatic Security Service (DS/DSS), based on a recommendation from the senior coordinator for Security Infrastructure (DS/SI), will determine whether, considering all facts available upon receipt of the initial information, it is in the interests of the national security to suspend the employee’s access to classified information on an interim basis.  A suspension is an independent administrative procedure that does not represent a final determination and does not trigger the procedures outlined in 12 FAM 234.
b. Suspension of a security clearance may be appropriate in, but may not be limited to, the following situations:
(1)  Additional time is needed to resolve adverse information that may require additional investigation or for the individual to complete certain requirements to maintain his or her clearance;
(2)  Preparations are being made to revoke an individual’s existing access to classified information and access is suspended while the review of the determination to revoke takes place;
(3)  The individual is pending removal or separation from employment under 5 U.S.C. 7532; or
(4)  The individual has failed to submit required security forms or releases in a timely manner.
c.  In all cases where access is suspended, the individual must be notified, in writing, that his/her security clearance has been suspended.  Upon notification, the individual must turn in his or her Department-issued credentials that provide logical or physical access to classified systems or designated classified spaces/facilities and any and all Special Issuance Agency-issued passport(s) to the Office of Personnel Security and Suitability (DS/SI/PSS).  DS must in turn notify the appropriate human resource personnel or the Industrial Security Division (DS/IS/IND), Defensive Equipment and Armored Vehicle Division (DS/PSP/DEAV), and regional security officer/post security officer, as appropriate, of the suspension.  The executive office within the individual’s employing bureau is responsible for collecting any and all classified devices issued to the employee.
d. Personnel whose security clearances have been suspended may not be placed on temporary duty (TDY) statusExceptions to this policy may be considered on a case-by-case basis by DS/DSS, but are unlikely to be granted, barring exceptional circumstances.  An exception request must be submitted in writing from the individual’s bureau executive director to DS/DSS via DS/SI/PSS.
e. Suspension of a security clearance is an interim measure, and is not a substitute for the revocation procedures described in 12 FAM 234.
f.  The length of the suspension process can vary according to the nature and complexity of the case.  If, for example the suspension of a clearance is based on preliminary facts from a DS criminal investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) counterintelligence or other law enforcement investigation, or an Inspector General investigation, in many cases, those matters must be resolved and prosecutorial decisions rendered before the Department can use the information for administrative action.  Often, relevant evidence and witnesses are located abroad, which can also add time to the investigative process.  Recognizing these constraints, DS will work to resolve suspension cases as quickly as possible.
g. Where deemed appropriate, the director (DS/DSS) may reinstate a suspended clearance subject to conditions, which may include limitations of TDY or regular assignment, or with a warning that future incidents of a similar character may result in revocation of a security clearance.

 

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Why ‘Lack of Candor’ Can Get Federal Employees in Real Trouble

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

According to OPM, “lack of candor”  focuses on an employee’s duty to be forthcoming in responses with regard to all facts and information in their possession. Frederick v. Justice, 52 MSPR 126, 133 (1991); Fargnoli v. Dept. of Commerce, 123 MSPR 330 (2016). 
Federal Times/Legal Matters cited the 1998 case of Lachance v. Erickson, 118 S.Ct. 753: “…. a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decided that a federal agency may discipline an employee who lies or lacks candor to the agency regarding alleged employment-related misconduct, including falsely denying the offense, such that the agency can discipline the employee not only for the underlying act of misconduct, but also for the lie or lack of candor. It’s the latter (the lie) that almost always results in a more severe penalty than if the employee simply admitted the underlying wrongdoing.” Read in full here.
A most public “lack of candor’ case that made relatively recent news is here.
Below is an excerpt from FSGB Case No. 2014-049. This case is notable because the grievant is a tenured DS agent who got in trouble, among other things, for not being “entirely forthcoming,” the fact that the agency has access to private emails, and how each instance of not being forthcoming becomes a specification in the charge.
HELD: The Department of State carried its burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that grievant, a tenured Diplomatic Security Officer, committed the acts with which he is charged. The Board found that a 10-day suspension without pay was reasonable. The grievance appeal was denied.
OVERVIEW: Grievant, a tenured Diplomatic Security (DS) Agent, appeals the Agency’s denial of his grievance in which he sought a reduction of a 10-day suspension, the penalty he received for multiple disciplinary charges. The original charges included: (1) improper personal conduct; (2) misuse of government resources; (3) lack of candor; (4) poor judgment; and (5) failure to follow regulations. Although the deciding official declined to find grievant liable for Charge 4 and although grievant takes responsibility for Charges 2, 3, and 5, he denies the misconduct alleged in Charge 1 and the reasonableness of the penalty. The deciding official determined that the 10-day suspension originally proposed remained reasonable even though one charge was not sustained. The Board concluded that agency satisfied its burden of proving that grievant committed the improper personal conduct as charged, i.e. groping a female, subordinate employee (grabbing her buttocks) at a Marine House toga party in The Board also concluded that the 10-day suspension was reasonable under the totality of the Douglas analysis and that the agency was not obligated to reduce the penalty originally proposed merely because one of the charges was not sustained.

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Snapshot: No Insurrectionists in America’s Diplomatic Service #18USC2383

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

 

Via 3 FAM 2210:

 

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State/OIG Releases Report on Pompeos Personal Use of USG Resources During Foggy Bottom Tenure

We are starting Week #6 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020.  If you think what we do here is useful, we could use your help. Please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

It’s a wonder they did not create an Office of the First Lady of the State Department in Foggy Bottom.

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Do you know the statutory definition of “widow” for benefit purposes?

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Gibson v. Office of Personnel Management, No. 2020-1651 (Fed. Cir. September 9, 2020) (MSPB Docket No. PH-0831-20-0011-I-1): The appellant sought survivor annuity benefits under the Civil Service Retirement System, contending that she is a “widow” of a retired Federal employee. OPM denied the appellant’s application for benefits, finding that she did not meet the statutory definition of “widow” for benefit purposes under 5 U.S.C. § 8341(a)(1)(A), because the marriage to her husband lasted from May 21, 2018, until his death on February 15, 2019 (270 days). This was short of the “at least 9 months” requirement. On appeal, the Board affirmed OPM’s determination. Before the Federal Circuit, the appellant contested the application of the term “months” and argued that each month should be counted as having 30 days, meaning her 270-day marriage was 9 months in duration. The court rejected this argument and affirmed the Board’s final decision. Citing Supreme Court precedent as support, the court concluded that the phrase “9 months” has an “ordinary public meaning” that counts time as calendar months. The court further explained that Congress often uses, including in the statute at issue, “days” as a unit of measurement and could have done so in 5U.S.C. § 8341(a)(1)(A) if that were its intention. The appellant presented no grounds for “erasing the clear distinction between familiar counting methods.”

http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions-orders/20-1651.OPINION.9-9-2020_1649543.pdf

 


 

 

Snapshot: Qualifying Injury Under 3 FAM 3660 – Compensation For Certain Injuries

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A section in the Foreign Affairs Manual was added on May 28, 2020 (see 3 FAM 3660 Compensation for Certain Injuries). It is based on Public Law 116-94, Division J, Title IX, section 901, where:
“Congress allows the Secretary of State to pay benefits to certain Department of State personnel under chief of mission authority who incurred a qualifying injury and are receiving benefits under section 8105 or 8106 of Title 5, United States Code.  It further authorizes the Secretary of State to pay for the costs of diagnosing and treating a qualifying injury of a covered employee, as defined in 3 FAM 3662, that are not otherwise covered by chapter 81 of Title 5, United States Code (the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA)) or other provision of Federal law; and to pay the costs of diagnosing and treating a qualifying injury of a covered individual or covered dependent, as defined in 3 FAM 3662, that are not otherwise covered by Federal law.”
3 FAM 3660 also includes definitions on who are covered employees, or covered individuals, what’s a “qualifying injury”, and the description of recognized and eligible qualifying injuries as of June 26, 2018.

3 FAM 3662  DEFINITIONS
(CT:PER-994;   05-28-2020)
(Uniform State/USAID/USAGM/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA)
(Applies to Foreign Service and Civil Service Employees)

Qualifying injury:  The term “qualifying injury” means the following:

(1)  With respect to a covered dependent, an injury listed in (3) below incurred

(a)  during a period in which a covered dependent is accompanying an employee to an assigned duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country designated by the Secretary of State under 3 FAM 3666;

(b)  in connection with war, insurgency, hostile act, terrorist activity, or other incident designated by the Secretary of State; and

(c)  that was not the result of the willful misconduct of the covered dependent.

(2)  With respect to a covered employee or a covered individual, an injury listed in (3) below incurred

(a)  during a period of assignment to a duty station in the Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, or another foreign country designated by the Secretary of State under 3 FAM 3666;

(b)  in connection with war, insurgency, hostile act, terrorist activity, or other incident designated by the Secretary of State; and

(c)  that was not the result of the willful misconduct of the covered employee or covered individual.

(3)  Recognized and eligible qualifying injuries, as of 26 June 2018, based on the University of Pennsylvania-identified criteria, include the following:

        • sharp localized ear pain;
        • dull unilateral headache;
        • tinnitus in one ear;
        • vertigo,
        • visual focusing issues;
        • disorientation;
        • nausea;
        • extreme fatigue;
        • cognitive problems, including difficulty with concentration, working memory, and attention;
        • recurrent headache;
        • high-frequency unilateral hearing loss;
        • sleep disturbance;
        • and imbalance walking.

3 FAM 3666  SECRETARY OF STATE COUNTRY DESIGNATION
(CT:PER-994;   05-28-2020)
(Uniform State/USAID/USAGM/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA)
(Applies to Foreign Service and Civil Service Employees)

a. Under Public Law 116-94, Division J, Title IX, section 901, the Secretary of State may designate another foreign country for the purposes of this section, provided that the Secretary reports such designation to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives, and includes in such report a rationale for each such designation.

b. The Secretary of State may not designate an added foreign country or duty station for the purposes of providing additional monetary benefit pursuant to 3 FAM 3663 or 3 FAM 3664 for a qualifying injury to covered employees, covered dependents, or covered individuals under this section unless the Secretary of State

(1)  provides to the Committees on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives 30 days’ notice of the designation of a particular additional country or duty station and the rationale for such an addition; and

(2)  provides no such additional monetary benefit pursuant to 3 FAM 3663 or 3 FAM 3664  to covered employees, covered dependents, or covered individuals for a qualifying injury until the 30-day notice period expires, unless there is written agreement by both the Chair and Ranking Members of both the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives that there is no objection to proceeding with provision of such monetary benefit compensation in less than 30 days.


 

 

FSGB: A Tandem Couple Gets a Penalty, You Guess It — For Being Married

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One of the cases highlighted in the recently released FSGB Annual Report for 2020 is one relating to finances involving  an FS-06 Office Management Specialist (OMS)  married to a Diplomatic Security Special Agent. Two FS employees married to each other is called a tandem couple.
In FSGB Case No. 2019-024, the Board overturned the Department’s application of several Standard Operating Procedures to grievant and her tandem spouse that denied her per diem and related travel benefits during a four-month period of mandatory language training in Washington, D.C. between her first and second assigned posts overseas. The Board found that in addition to internal inconsistencies, the Standard Operating Procedures applied by the Department conflicted with applicable federal statutes and regulations that otherwise governed grievant’s right to receive travel and per diem benefits.
FSGB Case No. 2019-024 Summary

Grievant was an untenured Foreign Service officer of the Department of State (“Department,” “agency”) who was part of a tandem couple. Grievant was directed to her first assignment overseas, at the end of which, she planned to take Home and Annual Leave, followed by sixteen weeks of mandatory language training at the Foreign Service Institute (“FSI”) in Washington, D.C., in advance of an onward assignment. Grievant’s husband, also a Foreign Service officer, requested and was granted Leave Without Pay (“LWOP”) in order to accompany grievant on her first tour. The Department considers LWOP on paper to be an assignment to Washington, D.C. At the end of the LWOP period, grievant’s husband planned to return to Washington to serve in a bridge assignment and to attend work-related training, followed by the same sixteen weeks of mandatory language training and the same onward assignment.

At the end of grievant’s first tour, pursuant to a Standard Operating Procedure (“SOP”), the agency assigned grievant’s husband to “long-term” training at FSI. Under federal statutes and agency regulations, an officer who is in long-term training is authorized to receive locality pay and a Home Service Transfer Allowance but not authorized to receive per diem or an allowance for meals and incidentals. An officer is entitled to per diem and related expenses if he or she is on temporary duty of six months or less.

Another agency SOP requires both members of a tandem couple to be in the same status. Therefore, the Department assigned grievant to “long-term” training at FSI to match her husband’s assignment. Grievant requested and was denied a temporary duty assignment for the duration of her training. She filed a grievance challenging the agency’s application of SOPs that denied her the right to receive federally authorized per diem and related benefits.

The Department denied the grievance, arguing that because grievant was not contending that any of the applied SOPs was contrary to law, regulation, or collective bargaining agreement, she was not legally allowed to challenge them. The Department argued further that the federal benefits statutes and regulations upon which grievant relied did not apply to her because of the operation of the agency SOPs that required tandem couples to be in the same assignment status. The Department maintained that grievant did not establish that any of the SOPs were misapplied.

The Board reviewed the primacy of the federal legislation and regulations versus the agency SOPs and concluded that the federal statutes and regulation were controlling. The Board concluded that under the applicable statutes and regulation, grievant was entitled to per diem and related benefits, in the absence of application of the SOPs. The Board further found that the SOPs were internally inconsistent and conflicted with federal law and, therefore, grievant’s challenge to them was grievable. The Board concluded that grievant proved by preponderant evidence that the SOPs that were applied in this instance improperly prevented her from receiving per diem and other benefits to which she was entitled. The grievance was therefore sustained and the Department was ordered to reimburse grievant for the benefits she should have received under federal law.
[…]
Grievant points out that she and her husband did not have a local residence in the Washington DC area, therefore, they were obligated to spend money on housing, meals and incidentals. As proof that the SOPs were erroneously applied to her family, grievant cites the fact that the Department spent more money assigning her to Washington, D.C. than if she had been detailed to FSI in a TDY capacity. She states that the Department delivered to her rental property in Washington, D.C. her household effects (“HHE”), her privately owned vehicle (“POV”), and items that had been in storage; unpacked their belongings; and then repacked them less than six months later. Had the Department allowed her to receive per diem while on short-term training, her husband would not have received HSTA and they would not have received the HHE, POV transportation, or storage shipment.

The Board concluded that grievant, a member of a tandem couple, proved by preponderant evidence that the Department of State improperly denied her per diem and related benefits when it applied several Standard Operating Procedures that were at times internally inconsistent and that conflicted with applicable federal statutes and regulations that otherwise governed grievant’s right to receive travel benefits during a period of sixteen weeks of language training between two overseas.
Grievant argued that the Department’s SOP A-11a discriminates against tandem couples by treating them as a single entity, rather than two separate employees, each with their own respective, individual entitlements. She argues that there is no law or existing regulation that mandates that both members of a tandem couple remain in the same assignment status.
Grievant explained the practical difficulties of the policy application when she wrote to HR/CDA:

Since HR/CDA does review on a case-by-case basis and exceptions have been granted in the past, we do kindly ask guidance on how to pursue having [the denial of our request for per diem] reviewed. …. [W]e have been told we may have to be assigned as a PCS [Permanent Change of Station] vs TDY. … The arbitrary interpretation of an SOP, rather than a ruling that is backed by the FAM, is going to create undue hardship on our family and unnecessary expenses for the State Department by having to receive all of our HHE, storage, POV, etc, only to have it packed back up again within 4 months. Shipping our HHE from to DC where it will be unpacked then repacked, then shipped again to is going to cost significantly more than having it held in temp storage in ELSO [European Logistical Support Office] then sent directly. I understand that we have the option to pay to keep our belongings in storage, but that forces us into a furnished apartment for 4 months. I contacted Oakwood, and a 2 bedroom apartment will cost over $23,000 for this time frame, which is just absurd. Even with DC locality and HSTA that is an extreme amount of money that I have to pay to attend required training.

Note that a hypothetical FS-06/1 employee earns approximately $42K. A 4-month rental of a furnished apartment at $23K would cost more than half that employee’s annual salary.
FSGB’s take on SOPs vs. Federal Statute:

“… where there is conflict between a state law and a federal one, the Supreme Court has stated that the federal statue must take effect. It follows, then, a fortiori, that where there is conflict between a unilaterally established agency procedure and a federal law or regulation, the procedure must equally give way to the operation of a federal statute “where it is impossible … to comply with both.” Id. Here, the Department could not comply with the federal per diem statutes, as grievant requested, solely because of its application of legally inferior SOPs. We conclude that this was clear error.”

16 Weeks is a “Long Term Assignment”, Who Knew?

“We further find that by mandating that grievant was on an assignment to long-term training in Washington, D.C., when she was in fact in training for no more than sixteen weeks, she did not have a home in Washington, she had not previously been assigned there, and she was mandated to take language training for her onward assignment overseas, the Department violated its own SOPs. Specifically, the Department violated the provision in SOP A-11a that, “The Department’s policy is to ensure that no advantage or disadvantage accrues to any employee through the assignment process on the grounds of marital status.” (Emphasis added). Application of this SOP put grievant at a clear disadvantage because she was not permitted to receive the benefits of the federal statutory per diem and M&IE benefits, solely because she was part of a tandem couple. The record is clear that had grievant not been married to her husband, she would have been entitled to seek a TDY assignment to Washington for her short-term training.

A tandem married couple penalty:

“… the Board finds that the purpose of the SOPs applied in this instance was to prevent any one employee from receiving duplicate benefits, such as per diem and locality pay, or employee benefits and family member benefits. Nothing in the SOPs suggests that the purpose was to prevent one employee from receiving certain benefits on the basis solely that the employee was married to another employee who received different benefits. If this were the case, then the procedures would advantage unmarried, but cohabiting, couples over tandem married couples.

Here’s the nutty part. When the FSGB became aware that AFSA was requesting a change in the very policies at issue in this case, it asked the Department about the proposed revision. The Department told FSGB:

Please find attached a copy of the revised SOP A-11a, which was implemented by the Department in December 2019 and is currently being announced within the Department. … As the revisions to SOP A-11a were implemented after [grievant’s] assignment in this case, the revisions have no impact on the application of the prior version of SOP A-11a to [her]. In her appeal, [grievant] contends that SOP A-11a should not have been applied to her and that she should have been placed on TDY status, that SOP A-11a was contrary to law, and that SOP A-11a discriminated based on marital status. The revision of SOP A-11a does not validate any of the arguments raised in [grievant’s] appeal.

Holymoly macaroni! It does, good heavens, it does validate all! Exclamation points added !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Seriously, how does one learn to think with such mental and linguistic contortions?
We could almost imagine the FSGB Board members shaking their heads in disbelief when it said:  “The Department concedes that the policy has changed officially, precisely as grievant requested in her case. Essentially, the Department argues that the revised policy should not be applied retroactively and, therefore, grievant’s appeal should be denied.”
FSGB cases cannot be read online without downloading the files.  Files are available here.