@StateDept Chief Information Officer Frontis Wiggins to Retire Effective December 8

Posted: 2:22 am ET

 

Another 30-plus year veteran of the State Department is leaving effective December 8. Frontis Wiggins, the agency’s chief information officer, and a career employee of over thirty years announced his retirement to his IRM colleagues via email on November 20:

“Today, I am announcing that I will retire from the U.S. Department of State, effective Friday, December 8, 2017. I will have more information to share with you in the near future.”

The State Department’s average annual attrition the last five years for Information Technology Managers at the  FE-MC rank like Mr. Wiggins is 1. In 2016, the average annual projected leadership attrition for this skill group and rank the next five years was zero.

Next to security officers and office management specialists, information management specialists in the State Department are projected to have the third highest overall attrition in the next five years (2016-2020).

His official bio via state.gov:

Frontis B. Wiggins, a member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister-Counselor, is currently the Chief Information Officer for the U.S. Department of State. In this capacity, he is responsible for the Department’s information resources and technology initiatives which provide core information, knowledge management, and technology (IT) services to the Department of State and its 260 overseas Missions. He is directly responsible for the Information Resource Management (IRM) Bureau’s budget of $569 million, and oversees State’s total IT/ knowledge management budget of approximately one billion dollars.

He joined the Foreign Service in 1985 and has served overseas in Cairo, Budapest, Hong Kong, Paris, Information Management Officer Beijing, and Director of Regional Information Management Center (RIMC) Frankfurt. Senior level assignments in D.C. have included the Principal Deputy CIO, Deputy CIO for Foreign Operations, the Dean of the School of Applied Information Technology (SAIT) at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), and the Director of Information Resource Management’s Messaging Systems Office.

Mr. Wiggins holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from the College of William and Mary, a Master’s Degree in Information Systems from George Washington University, and is a member of their Honor Society. He is a graduate of the Chief Information Officer’s University class of 2006 and has received numerous Meritorious and Superior Honor awards during his career, as well as being the first recipient of AFSA’s Tex Harris Award for constructive dissent in 2000. He speaks seven foreign languages with varying degrees of fluency.

A colleague of Mr. Wiggins who was at FSI where he was once dean told us that everyone there raved at that time that he would be the next CIO. “There was a lot of excitement in the field when he did become CIO because he worked up through the ranks and was familiar with the work in the trenches. He seemed keen on modernizing our aging IT infrastructure, so there’s been a lot of hope that things *might* actually change for the better in IRM.”

Mr. Wiggins was “leading the charge for much-needed modernization of our IT infrastructure” at the State Department we were told. And that “this is a sad time for IT in the Department.”

One source confirmed for us that Rob Adams, the Principal Deputy CIO will be Acting CIO after Mr. Wiggins’ departure.  Federal News Radio who reported on Wiggins’ departure says that Adams joined the State Department in 1988 after serving in the Marine Corps for four years.  Federal News also note that Wiggins will become the eighth cabinet agency CIO to leave in the past year.

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GOP Tax Plan Includes Major Headaches For Homeowners #CallCongress

Posted: 3:28 am ET
Updated: 2:01 pm PT

 

Update: Tax Reform and the Foreign Service via afsa.org:

Several AFSA members have expressed concern that the House of Representatives version of the pending tax reform bill would impose a capital gains tax that could exceed $35,000 on anyone who sells their primary residence without having physically lived there for five out of the previous eight years. 

The good news is that, after Congress adopted the current two-in-five-year rule in the early 2000s, AFSA joined with groups representing members of the U.S. military in securing passage of a law in 2003 that extended the qualifying period by up to 10 years for a taxpayer who is away from their primary residence on a Foreign Service, military, or intelligence community assignment. The current House bill does not change that special provision. 

If the House provision becomes law, the 10-year extension for Foreign Service members would remain. Thus, the new five-out-of-eight-year rule would be a five-out-of-eighteen-year rule for Foreign Service members serving away from their primary residence.

If you may need to take advantage of this special treatment, please learn more about it in AFSA’s annual Tax Guide which is updated and printed every January in The Foreign Service Journal and on the AFSA website. Additional information is in IRS Publication 523 (page 5 in the current 2016 edition). The actual law is in Section 121 of the IRS code (26 USC 121).

AFSA would like to highlight the role of our then-Director of Congressional Relations Ken Nakamura, who was instrumental in securing the 2003 law affording special treatment for the Foreign Service. Since then, hundreds of AFSA members have each saved tens of thousands of dollars in taxes when they sold their primary residence after an extended period of overseas service. Your AFSA dues make possible victories such as this one.

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Tax lawyer/lobbyist and friend of a friend who is highly engaged on the Hill on both tax bills asked that we pass on this alert for homeowners:

A provision in the House tax bill (H.R. 1) could cost us $100,000 in capital gains taxes when we sell our houses.  Under current law, a homeowner filing jointly is allowed to exclude the first $500,000 of gain on the sale of a principal residence.  The House bill deletes the current law’s $500,000 exclusion of gain from the sale of a principal residence.  The Senate bill only lengthens the holding period from 5 years to 8 years, but retains the $500,000 exclusion.

The two bills will be reconciled in the next two weeks or so. I urge you to contact House and Senate tax writers asking them to adopt the Senate bill’s approach.  The most important person to contact is your home state Senator and your own Representative in the House.  

U.S. Senators – Get contact information for your Senators in the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Representatives – Find the website and contact information for your Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives

In addition, you can call the office and leaving a message or, in some circumstances, sending emails to the following key decision makers:

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady:  Phone: (202) 225-4901

House Speaker Paul Ryan:  https://paulryan.house.gov/contact/email.htm email him or call his office to leave a message of concern at his Washington office (202) 225-3031.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:  https://www.mcconnell.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contactform and fill out the form or call his Washington office at (202) 224-2541

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch:  (202) 224-5251 or please call (202-224-4515), fax a letter to (202-228-0554).

Here is a Sample Message:  I oppose the repeal of the $500,000 exclusion for gain from the sale of a principal residence in the House Tax bill (H.R.1).  The $100,000 tax imposed by that repeal is important for my retirement, my family, and my ability to move to a new job in another location.  There is no tax reduction in the bill that will offset that tax cost.  The Senate version is better, and should be substituted for the House repeal.

It takes time and effort, but we understand that calls and emails coming from outside Washington, D.C. play an important role in this process.

You may review the text of H.R. 1 here; use the browser’s find function to see details under SEC. 1302. MORTGAGE INTEREST.

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First @StateDept Postpones Annual Retirement Ceremony, Then Postpones Annual Awards Ceremony

Posted: 2:19 am ET

 

Each fall, usually in November, and tentatively scheduled for Friday, November 17, 2017 this year, the Secretary of State hosts the annual retirement ceremony. Invitations usually go out out in the first half of October to State Department Civil Service and Foreign Service employees who retires between September 1 the year before and August 31 of the current year. Employees who retire after August 31, 2017 for instance will be invited to next year’s ceremony (fall of 2018).

On October 23, State/HR sent out an email announcement informing recipients that the Secretary’s Annual Retirement Ceremony has been changed. “Regrettably, the tentative date for the Retirement Ceremony has been preempted by another event.” This year’s ceremony is now reportedly scheduled for Thursday, December 7. The invitations to the honorees were supposedly mailed out the first week of November.

The State Department’s public schedule for November 17 is listed as follows:

9:45 a.m. Secretary Tillerson delivers remarks at the Ministerial on Trade, Security, and Governance in Africa, at the Department of State.

11:30 a.m. Secretary Tillerson participates in a Family Photo, at the Department of State.

4:30 p.m. Secretary Tillerson meets with President Donald Trump, at the White House.

We don’t know which of the above pre-empted the event last week or if somebody else had some private ceremony at the State Department venue. We’re told this has to be done during the day to avoid overtime payment.  In any case, we’ll have to watch out what happens on December 7 and see if they can round up enough people for Tillerson’s first retirement ceremony.

On November 14, a notification also went out from State/HR that the 2017 Department Annual Awards Ceremony has been rescheduled:

The Secretary’s travel demands will make it impossible for him to preside over the Department Awards ceremony scheduled tentatively for November 21, 2017. We expect to reschedule the event for a date in the near future. The Secretary would like very much to present these awards himself and asks that we try to find a date and time that fits with his calendar. We will be in touch as soon as we have any information on the plans for the ceremony.

A howler arrived in our inbox:

The Secretary postponed State’s annual awards ceremony on short notice. Individuals understand the priority of world affairs and how a crisis takes precedence over a ceremony, however, that is precisely when another senior officer conducts the ceremony. That’s great the Secretary himself wants to be there, but the show must go on. Many (if not most) individuals receiving these prestigious awards had family traveling to DC to be present. The awards are a big deal and it is Thanksgiving weekend. Now all the travel plans are wasted, money is lost (who buys non-refundable tickets?) and Thanksgiving reunions are ruined.

It’s almost like the Secretary and his top team seek out every opportunity to destroy morale amongst his staff.

Perhaps Mr. Tillerson isn’t used to thinking about these things. But see, if he has counsel at the top besides the denizens of the “God Pod”, that individual would have anticipated this. The awardees are not just coming from next door, or within driving distance, and their families do not live in Washington, D.C. Anyone with a slight interest in the Foreign Service should know that. It is understandable that the Secretary has lots of responsibilities, but State could have used his deputy, or if he, too, is traveling, they could certainly use “P” to do this on Mr. Tillerson’s behalf. Of course, if advisors at the top are as blind as the secretary, this is what you get, which only alienates the building more.

Should be interesting to see where Secretary Tillerson’s travel take him this Thanksgiving week.

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A Look Back at @StateDept Staffing Efforts: Powell’s Diplomatic Readiness Initiative, Clinton’s Diplomacy 3.0

Posted 12:15 pm PT

 

Apparently, Secretary Tillerson sent a letter to Senator Corker with a chart showing that there are 2K more FSOs today than in 2008. Well, not because of anything special he did after he came into office in February 2017 but due to concerted efforts that started in 2001 and slowed down in 2012.

Lets’ rewind to 1993, two years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and see what happened at the State Department. Read The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA.

In 2001, Secretary Colin Powell arrived in Foggy Bottom and made staffing the agency a priority.  He secured funding for his Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (DRI) which added 1,000 new positions to improve the Department’s diplomatic capacity and restore workforce capabilities. According to the State Department, “the DRI blueprint addressed new foreign policy initiatives, emerging priorities, and staffing deficits caused by the downsizing requirements of the mid-1990’s.”

On March 20, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq.

The State Department notes that “Staffing demands of Department operations in Iraq and Afghanistan diverted human resources and created vacancies at many other posts around the world. The growth of language- designated positions (LDPs) from roughly 3,000 in 2003 to over 4,270 in 2015 increased the Department’s training needs and diverted even more human resources.” 

So despite the DRI gains from 2002 to 2004, those positions were reportedly eroded through 2008.

Secretary Hillary Clinton came into office in January 2009. Early in her tenure, she promoted Diplomacy 3.0:

“Diplomacy 3.0” represents the three essential pillars of U.S. foreign policy: diplomacy, development, and defense. With Diplomacy 3.0, we are building diplomatic readiness, ensuring that diplomacy is again ready and able to address our nation’s growing and increasingly complex foreign policy challenges. To meet our expanding mission, we need Foreign Service personnel prepared to engage on a growing list of complex global issues from stabilization and reconstruction, to terrorism and international crime, to nuclear nonproliferation and the environment. Our diplomats also must be prepared to engage foreign audiences directly in their own languages, languages that may well require two or more years of study. To meet these needs, Secretary Clinton envisions a multi-year hiring plan that increases the Department’s Foreign Service by 25 percent. Meeting an expanding mission and properly staffing overseas posts, many of which are either difficult or dangerous, requires more personnel trained in the various skills demanded of the 21st Century’s smart diplomacy.

The State Department notes that it made significant gains during Diplomacy 3.0 through FY 2012 in addressing known challenges, such as staffing gaps and improving the language proficiency of the Foreign Service corps.  During the first two years of D3.0 hiring (2009 and 2010), the Department made significant progress in enhancing its language capabilities, filling key overseas vacancies, and providing resources for critical new strategic priorities through unprecedented levels of hiring. It further notes the following:

Diplomacy 3.0 (D3.0) increased the Department’s Foreign Service position base by 23 percent and the Civil Service (CS) by ten percent through FY 2013. However, much of this growth was attributable to increases in fee-funded Consular and Security positions. Without these positions, net FS position growth was roughly 13 percent.

D3.0 achieved about half its goal of a 25% leap (fee-funded positions excepted) but FY2011 marked a dramatic shift in the immediate funding environment. Then came the sequestration funding cuts enacted during FY 2013 and with that, the Department’s budget decreased and along with it, the robust hiring from the initial D3.0 years suffered. In 2012, we blogged that D3.0 was expected to conclude in FY2023 (see Foreign Service Staffing Gaps, and Oh, Diplomacy 3.0 Hiring Initiative to Conclude in FY2023).

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@StateDept to Offer Buyouts to First 641 Employees Who Agree to Leave by April 2018 #$25M

Posted: 12:15 am ET
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In case you have not seen this yet, the NYT reported on November 10 that the State Department will soon offer a $25,000 buyout to diplomats and staff members who quit or take early retirements by April. We think the payout number is $40K, see our comment below:

The decision is part of Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson’s continuing effort to cut the ranks of diplomats and Civil Service officers despite bipartisan resistance in Congress. Mr. Tillerson’s goal is to reduce a department of nearly 25,000 full-time American employees by 8 percent, which amounts to 1,982 people.

To reach that number, he has already frozen hiring, reduced promotions, asked some senior employees to perform clerical duties that are normally relegated to lower-level staff members, refused to fill many ambassadorships and senior leadership jobs, and fired top diplomats from coveted posts while offering low-level assignments in their place. Those efforts have crippled morale worl

Still, State Department accountants have told Mr. Tillerson that only about 1,341 people are expected to retire or quit by the end of September 2018, the date by which Mr. Tillerson has promised to complete the first round of cuts.

Indeed, rumors of a buyout have reduced the number of departures expected this year. So $25,000 will be given to the first 641 employees who agree to leave by April, a representative from the State Department confirmed on Friday.
[…]
Asked about the many vacancies at the State Department, Mr. Trump said in an interview with Laura Ingraham of Fox News: “You know, don’t forget, I’m a businessperson and I tell my people, ‘When you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them.’ But we have some people that I’m not happy with there.”

Pressed about critical positions like the assistant secretary of state, Mr. Trump responded in a statement that has since reverberated around the State Department. “The one that matters is me,” he said. “I’m the only one that matters because, when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.”

See the link to the full article below.

As far as we know, this POTUS has never been anywhere near Foggy Bottom since his election. Based on the archive of his tweets, he also tweeted only nine times about the State Department between 2014-2016. So when he said in that Ingraham interview that But we have some people that I’m not happy with there” — we have to wonder who are the “some people” he was referring to, and why was he “not happy.”

Given his lack of direct interactions with the employees of the State Department, we can only point to one incident that happened very early in his administration that may account for this “unhappiness.”  Back in February, we blogged about our concern related to the leaked dissent memo over Trump’s travel ban (see Dissent Channel: Draft Memo Over #MuslimBan Leaks – Now What?).  We wrote then that the leak will probably cause the greatest crisis of confidence between the new President and the Foreign Service since 1971 (see Dissent Channel Leak: Who Gains the Most From Flogging the Laundry Like This?).  In that 1971 case, President Nixon apparently instructed Secretary Rogers to fire all 50 FSOs who signed a letter protesting an anticipated invasion of Cambodia. We are not aware of similar known instruction from this president but watching the news coming out of Foggy Bottom this past several months, one cannot help but wonder what function that leaked dissent memo had in the decision not to staff the agency at its upper ranks, and the reorganization that the new secretary of state has now embarked on (FOIA ninjas, here’s a case for you!).

Trump’s 2018 Budget requested $25.6 billion in base funding for the Department of State and USAID, a $10.1 billion or 28 percent reduction from the 2017 annualized CR level. The Budget also requested $12.0 billion as Overseas Contingency Operations funding for extraordinary costs, primarily in war areas like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, for an agency total of $37.6 billion. Note that the FY18 request under “Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments” include “Section 3523 of Title 5, U.S. Code shall be applied with respect to funds made available by this Act by substituting “$40,000” for “$25,000″ in subsection (b)(3)(B) of such section.”  (Read 5 U.S. Code 3523).

In September this year, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved “a $51.35 billion appropriations bill to strengthen federal programs and operations that support national security and American values abroad.”  The minority announcement notes that the allocation is $10.7 billion above the President’s request as scored by CBO, but it is $1.9 billion below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. We expect this will pass due to bipartisan support.  Despite the reduced request by the Trump Administration, Congress reaffirmed its primary role in appropriating funds and gave the State Department more money than was requested.

And yet, the State Department is going forward with shrinking its American workforce by 8 percent. NYT put the reduction in number at 1,982 employees. The NYT report also says the first 641 employees who agree to leave by April will get $25K. The budget request actually increases the buyout amount to $40K. If our math is right, that means a total payout of about $25.6 million.

See: @StateDept/USAID Staffing Cut and Attrition: A Look at Real Numbers and Projected Attrition, our calculations at 600 missed by 41 employees for the buyout.

We remember reading, in the aftermath of the dissent memo leak that the Democratic Members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs reminded the Trump Administration that State Department personnel who dissent from policy are protected by law and sought assurances that State Department personnel would not be subject to harassment or retribution for offering dissenting viewpoints.

But who’s going to protect an entire agency in what now looks glaringly like collective punishment?

A career ambassador who left the Service the last couple of years told us recently, “Until now, I’ve kept an open mind and a stiff upper lip. But now I’m ready to conclude that they really are working incrementally [to] fuck the traditional Foreign Service.”

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AFSA Shouts “Fire!” and a @StateDept Spox on Background Asks, “Fire, What Fire?”

Posted: 2:58 pm PT
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The piece below, in case you have not read it yet, is an advance copy of AFSA President Barbara Stephenson’s opinion essay on the depletion of the Foreign Service career ranks. Not NYT or the Washington Post but for a December 2017 column in the Foreign Service Journal, the group’s trade publication with a reported circulation of 17,500 and approximately 35,000 readers (this column was also circulated via an email marketing service). We’ve been watching the departures from the State Department since January, and this is the first time we’re seeing these numbers. And frankly, the first time we’re hearing the alarm from the “voice of the Foreign Service.” We have some thoughts below after the piece.

 

Time to Ask Why
December 2017 Foreign Service Journal
President’s Views

By AFSA President Ambassador Barbara Stephenson

I begin with a reminder that we, the members of the career Foreign Service, have an obligation as stewards of our institution to be effective advocates for why diplomacy matters. That requires some skill in explaining how diplomacy works.

While raising awareness of and appreciation for the Foreign Service is a longstanding goal, one AFSA has pursued with renewed vigor and impact over the past couple years, the need to make the case for the Foreign Service with fellow Americans and our elected representatives has taken on a new urgency. The cover of the Time magazine that arrived as I was writing this column jarred me with its graphic of wrecking balls and warning of “dismantling government as we know it.”

While I do my best, as principal advocate for our institution and as a seasoned American diplomat, to model responsible, civil discourse, there is simply no denying the warning signs that point to mounting threats to our institution—and to the global leadership that depends on us.

There is no denying that our leadership ranks are being depleted at a dizzying speed, due in part to the decision to slash promotion numbers by more than half. The Foreign Service officer corps at State has lost 60 percent of its Career Ambassadors since January. Ranks of Career Ministers, our three-star equivalents, are down from 33 to 19. The ranks of our two-star Minister Counselors have fallen from 431 right after Labor Day to 369 today—and are still falling. 

These numbers are hard to square with the stated agenda of making State and the Foreign Service stronger. Were the U.S. military to face such a decapitation of its leadership ranks, I would expect a public outcry. Like the military, the Foreign Service recruits officers at entry level and grows them into seasoned leaders over decades. The talent being shown the door now is not only our top talent, but also talent that cannot be replicated overnight. The rapid loss of so many senior officers has a serious, immediate, and tangible effect on the capacity of the United States to shape world events.

Meanwhile, the self-imposed hiring freeze is taking its toll at the entry level. Intake into the Foreign Service at State will drop from 366 in 2016 to around 100 new entry-level officers joining A100 in 2018 (including 60 Pickering and Rangel Fellows).

Not surprisingly, given the blocked entry path, interest in joining the Foreign Service is plummeting. I wrote with pride in my March 2016 column that “more than 17,000 people applied to take the Foreign Service Officer Test last year,” citing interest in joining the Foreign Service as a key indicator of the health of the institution. What does it tell us, then, that we are on track to have fewer than half as many people take the Foreign Service Officer Test this year?

As the shape and extent of the staffing cuts to the Foreign Service at State become clearer, I believe we must shine a light on these disturbing trends and ask “why?” and “to what end?”   

Congress rejected drastic cuts to State and USAID funding. The Senate labeled the proposed cuts a “doctrine of retreat” and directed that appropriated funds “shall support” staffing State at not less than Sept. 30, 2016, levels, and further directed that “The Secretary of State shall continue A-100 entry-level classes for FSOs in a manner similar to prior years.”

Given this clear congressional intent, we have to ask: Why such a focus on slashing staffing at State? Why such a focus on decapitating leadership? How do these actions serve the stated agenda of making the State Department stronger?

Remember, nine in ten Americans favor a strong global leadership role for our great country, and we know from personal experience that such leadership is unthinkable without a strong professional Foreign Service deployed around the world protecting and defending America’s people, interests and values.  Where then, does the impetus come from to weaken the American Foreign Service?  Where is the mandate to pull the Foreign Service team from the field and forfeit the game to our adversaries?

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AFSA says that the Foreign Service officer corps “has lost 60 percent of its Career Ambassadors since January.” We winced when we saw that one. Not all career diplomats attain this rank; in fact, only a handful of individuals are nominated by the President to become Career Ambassadors but this is the very top rank of the Foreign Service, equivalent to a four-star general. Imagine if the Pentagon lost 60 percent of its 0-10 but way, way worse because the Foreign Service is a much smaller service, and the loss of one or two officials have significant impact to the leadership ranks.

When we saw the AFSA message Tuesday night, we noticed that social media started latching on to the 60 percent loss.  AFSA could have used actual numbers as it did with the break down of the second and third top ranks in the FS, but for its own reason, it used the percentage instead of actual numbers for the career ambassadors. So that caused a mild feeding frenzy that’s not helpful because when folks realize that 60 percent is really 3 out of 5 career ambassadors, they won’t be happy.

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Snapshot: @StateDept’s Civil Service and Foreign Service Retirements, January-October 2017

Posted: 1:33 am ET
Updated: 11:01 am PT
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The following are clips with the names of Civil Service and Foreign Service employees who retired from the State Department from January to October this year. The names were published in the monthly trade magazine of the State Department. It looks like there are three non-career appointees included in the lists below. Political ambassadors conclude their appointments at the end of their tours, they do not “retire” from the Foreign Service as they are not career members. (Correction: We understand that if, at the time of conclusion of the non-career appointment, the person has sufficient federal government service (in various capacities during an entire career) and is otherwise eligible for federal retirement benefits, then the person can, in fact, “retire.” We do not know if they get Foreign Service retirement). We’ve asked if these names come from the Bureau of Human Resources but we have not received a response as of this writing. An unofficial source told us that these names come from HR but that there is typically a lag of a couple of months from actual retirement to publication of the name in State Magazine.

The *June and *July/August lists are particularly problematic due to some duplication of names on both lists but we’re posting these here for a snapshot of the departures. This does not include non-retirement separations. Based on these imperfect lists, the total retirements for the first 10 months of 2017 are at least a couple hundred employees each for the Civil Service and the Foreign Service. And we still have a couple months to go.

However, since the federal government manages its records by fiscal year, DGHR should already have the retirements and non-retirement separation data for FY2017 that ended on September 30, 2017. The State Department has always been proud of its low attrition rate, if our HR friends want to tout the FY2017 attrition data, let us know.

January 2017 – CS-24; FS-14

February 2017: CS-10; FS-45

March 2017: CS-47; FS-25

April 2017: CS-43; FS-25

May 2017: CS-16; FS-4

*June 2017: CS-54; FS-56


*July/August 2017: CS-41; FS-57
September 2017: CS-17; FS-34

October 2017: CS-11; FS-22


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Ambassador John F. Tefft Pens Op-Ed as He Departs Russia, to Retire After 45 Years of Service

Posted: 2:23 am ET
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Ambassador John F. Tefft, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia left post on September 28. He is also retiring from the U.S. Foreign Service for the second time after 45 years of public service. He pens the following op-ed for The Moscow Times:

On the Day of My Departure

We need to rebuild trust between our two countries.

When I first joined the diplomatic service, working on the Soviet desk in the 1980s, our relationship with Russia was at a low point. The Soviet Union had just shot down a Korean Airliner, with almost 100 Americans including a Congressman on board. There was a lot of anger in America.

Today, as I prepare to leave Russia, our relationship has reached another low point. Americans are concerned and angry about Russian interference in our elections and by the Russian authorities’ refusal to accept their responsibility for it.

As Secretary Tillerson said, we need to rebuild trust between our two countries and move our relationship to a different place. The American people want the two most powerful nuclear nations in the world to have a better relationship. From the earliest days of this Administration we have said time and again that we would prefer a constructive relationship with Russia based on cooperation on common interests. We remain prepared to try to find a way forward.

Serving the American community is at the heart of the work of the U.S. Mission in Russia, and it will continue to be a main priority moving forward. The U.S. Embassy and our Consulates General throughout Russia first and foremost are here to provide services to the Americans living, working, and traveling in Russia. During my time here, I have seen what Americans can do in Russia to bring our countries together on a people-to-people, business-to-business, scholar-to-scholar, performer-to-performer level. This gives me hope, even during these difficult times.

With the help of our Foreign Commercial Service and Foreign Agricultural Service, U.S. and Russian businesses receive assistance developing and expanding new relationships and introducing innovative technologies. This increases trade and investment and strengthens ties between our two countries. I have seen how cattle ranchers from the United States and Russia work together to produce high quality beef for the Russian market and how American-trained managers bring productivity and streamlined processing into Russian businesses to help make them more profitable and more successful.

I am particularly proud of the positive influence U.S. companies have had on the Russian business culture. When I contrast the present business culture with what I witnessed here in the 1990s, I notice tremendous progress in the areas of transparency, business ethics, and corporate social responsibility.

U.S. companies have led by example on corporate social responsibility. One major soft drinks manufacturer has partnered with governmental and non-governmental organizations to preserve and protect important watersheds; an oil and gas corporation has provided over $250 million to support infrastructure and community projects in Sakhalin and Khabarovsk Krai; and a paper and pulp producer supports social programs in Svetogorsk. These are just a few of the many examples of the benefits of the presence of U.S. companies here in Russia. I have also been very impressed with Russia’s talented business leaders, including women, many of whom rose from entry-level positions at U.S. companies to the highest ranks of leadership.

As I look back over my time here in Russia, I am struck by the richness of Russian culture and history. I will look back fondly on my travels to places like Tikhvin, where I had the pleasure of visiting Rimsky-Korsakov’s childhood home and seeing the piano on which so many amazing and talented Russian composers played and composed their works. I will particularly remember my annual visits to events such as the pop-culture and entertainment conference Comic-Con, my travels throughout the country to visit American businesses and partnerships, and all of the opportunities I have to meet with many creative, intelligent young Russians who are inspired by the possibilities of what we can do when we work together.

We will continue to stand up for our interests while looking for avenues of dialogue. We remain dedicated to finding ways to bring together Russians and Americans both to discuss our differences and to discover the many things we have in common. Having seen how we weathered the storm in the 1980s and the dedication of our staff of talented professionals in the State Department back home and here in Mission Russia, I remain optimistic that our governments will ultimately find a way forward. On our side, we’re certainly ready.

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Ambassador Tefft served as the United States Ambassador to the Russian Federation since September 2014. He previously served as Ambassador to Lithuania from 2000 to 2003, to Georgia from 2005 to 2009, and to Ukraine from 2009 to 2013. He worked from 2004 to 2005 as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs responsible for U.S. relations with Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova.

Ambassador Tefft retired from the Foreign Service in September 2013 and served as Executive Director of the RAND Corporation’s Business Leaders Forum from October 2013 to August 2014 until his recall to duty and confirmation as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation.  From 2003 to 2004 Tefft was the International Affairs Advisor at the National War College in Washington, D.C. He was Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 1996 to 1999, and was Chargé d’Affaires from November 1996 to September 1997. His other Foreign Service assignments include Jerusalem, Budapest, and Rome.

He received the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award in 1992, the DCM of the Year Award for his service in Moscow in 1999 and the Diplomacy for Human Rights Award in 2013. He also received Presidential Meritorious Service Awards in 2001 and 2005.

@StateDept Loses One More Under Secretary as Bruce Wharton (Public Diplomacy/Public Affairs) Steps Down

Posted: 4:31 am ET
Updated: July 29, 1:50 pm PT
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One of the State Department’s top three senior officials is retiring this week. Ambassador D. Bruce Wharton was designated as Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R) on December 8, 2016.  He was one of the top two senior officials who remained at the State Department after the January 20 transition (the other official was  Thomas A. Shannon, Jr. who is Under Secretary for Political Affairs). Ambassador Wharton’s main task is public diplomacy and public affairs engagement and to oversee the following bureaus: Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA)Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP)Bureau of Public Affairs (PA)Global Engagement Center (GEC); and the Office of Policy, Planning and Resources (R/PPR).

U/S Wharton’s second in command is listed as Mark Taplin, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). We understand that Mr. Taplin is also stepping down, so he will not be Acting “R”.

Apparently, there are no senior officials in the bureau who were previously confirmed by the U.S. Senate.  It is not clear to anyone on who might assume Ambassador Wharton’s duties and responsibilities when he steps down this week. The Special Envoy and Coordinator of the Global Engagement Center is currently vacant and the deputy assistant secretaries (DASes) in the Public Affairs bureau are all on “acting” status.

We understand that Ambassador Wharton will transition to retirement via FSI’s retirement seminar but will retain and exercise the authorities needed to keep everything moving forward until another person is appointed to assume those authorities. But the retirement seminar is not very long, so at some point, absent a new nominee, Secretary Tillerson will need to appoint a senior official in an acting capacity to oversee “R.” 

Per authority delegated under section 308(a) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended, the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources (who is now also in an acting capacity) may recall any retired career member of the Service for active duty whenever he or she determines that the needs of the Service so require. This authority was used previously to fill temporary vacancies but apparently as of last Monday, recalled retired FSOs have had their recalls cancelled.

Ambassador Wharton served as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs from 2015-2016. Prior to that he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe from September 2012 to November 2015. He has also served as the Bureau of African Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy, African Affairs Director of the Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and Deputy Coordinator of the Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs. From 2003 to 2006 he was the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala.

Bruce Wharton entered the Foreign Service in 1985 and has served at U.S. embassies in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. In Africa, he has also had temporary duty in Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana. From 1992 to 1995 he worked in Washington, D.C. on Andean Affairs and Western Hemisphere policy issues. He has received Superior and Meritorious Honor Awards from the Department of State and the U.S. Information Agency, and was the 2011 recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy.  He is a graduate of the University of Texas in Austin and speaks Spanish and German.

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FS Labor Relations Board on AFSA Dues, Foreign Service Retirees, and Annuities ≠ Salaries

Posted: 4:22 am ET
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Last month, the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FSLRB) rendered a decision about AFSA dues and Foreign Service retirees.  AFSA filed with the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (the Board) a “request[ for] . . . interpretation and guidance of § 1018(b)(2) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980. This provision concerns the termination of payroll deductions for union dues when “the individual ceases to receive a salary from the [Agency] as a member of the Service.”

When Agency employees wish to have their Union dues automatically withheld from their paychecks, the employees complete a form that authorizes the Agency to withhold those funds and remit them to the Union.6 According to the Union, the Agency automatically terminates dues withholding when a foreign-service employee retires. The Union asserts that this practice is based on an erroneous understanding of § 1018(b)(2) of the Foreign Service Act …
[…]
[T]he Union argues that the automatic termination of dues withholding causes it to lose dues and, therefore, asks the Board to find that § 1018(b)(2) does not require automatic termination of dues withholding upon retirement.
[…]
The Union contends that the Agency should continue withholding dues from an individual’s retirement benefits based on the same dues-withholding-authorization form that applied to the individual’s salary while in active service.17 We disagree.

Section 1018(b)(2) of the Foreign Service Act requires the Agency to terminate an existing dues-withholding assignment when an “individual ceases to receive a salary from the [Agency].”18 As explained below, retirees generally receive “annuities,” not salaries, upon retirement.19

The FSLRB says it find that § 1018(b)(2) requires the State Department to terminate an existing dues-withholding assignment when a retiring employee stops receiving a salary.

The Department deducts union dues from salaries on the basis of a voluntary act by the Foreign Service employee. The employee has the right to revoke his/her decision at any time. Whenever an employee who has had his/her union dues deducted from salary arrives at the moment of retirement, it must be assumed that he/she continues to believe it had been in his/her interest to maintain both their membership in the union, and the automatic deduction of union dues.

The Board notes that “when a foreign-service employee retires, that “individual ceases to receive a salary from the [Agency].”30 Consequently, under § 1018(b)(2), the Agency must terminate the individual’s previous dues-withholding assignment.”
AFSA has over 10,000 active paying FS members. Its dues range from $95.00 to $400.00 annually based on four employee brackets.  Read the full decision below:

 

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