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After 40 Years of Service to America, Ambassador Daniel Fried Delivers Parting Shot

Posted: 2:11 am  ET

 

Ambassador Daniel Fried assumed his position as the State Department’s Coordinator for Sanctions Policy on January 28, 2013. Prior to that, he served as Special Envoy for Closure of the Guantanamo Detainee Facility starting on May 15, 2009, with the additional responsibility as the Secretary’s Special Advisor on Camp Ashraf (Iraq) from November, 2011. He also served from May 5, 2005 until May 15, 2009 as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council from January, 2001 to May, 2005.  He was Principal Deputy Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for the New Independent States from May 2000 until January 2001. He was Ambassador to Poland from November 1997 until May 2000.

Daniel Fried joined the Foreign Service in 1977. He served in the Economic Bureau of the State Department, the U.S. Consulate General in then-Leningrad, the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, the Office of Soviet Affairs, and as Polish Desk Officer at the State Department.  He later served as Political Counselor in the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw from 1990 to 1993.  In his service during the Administrations of the first President Bush, President Clinton, President George W. Bush, and the early months of the Obama Administration, Ambassador Fried was active in designing and implementing U.S. policy to advance freedom and security in Central and Eastern Europe, NATO enlargement, and the Russia-NATO relationship.  Last week, he retired from the Foreign Service after 40 years of service to this country.  He delivered the speech below at his retirement ceremony last Friday.  The text was shared by former Deputy Secretary Tony Blinken.

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Thank you, colleagues and friends.

And thank you to my daughters Hannah and Sophie for putting up with all that my job has required over many years. And I am so happy that my son-in-law Brian Hanley, a good guy, has joined our family.

To Olga, there is much to say, but now I will say only that I relied on your professional guidance for many years, and your analytic judgment helped me make some crucial calls early on. You know what you did, and for that, and much else, my thanks.

And to our 15-month old granddaughter Ava, in her terms, “Hi!”

My 40 years in the Foreign Service – and the careers of many of my friends – became associated with the fall of the Soviet Empire and the putting in order of what came after: the building of a Europe whole, free and at peace. It is hard to recall today how improbable victory in the Cold War appeared. For two generations, up through the mid-1980s, many thought we were losing the Cold War. Even in early 1989, few believed that Poland’s Solidarity movement could win, that the Iron Curtain would come down, that the Baltic states could be free, that the second of the 20th Century’s great evils – Communism – could be vanquished without war. But it happened, and the West’s great institutions – NATO and the EU – grew to embrace 100 million liberated Europeans. It was my honor to have done what I could to help. I learned never to underestimate the possibility of change, that values have power, and that time and patience can pay off, especially if you’re serious about your objectives. Nothing can be taken for granted, and this great achievement is now under assault by Russia, but what we did in my time is no less honorable. It is for the present generation to defend and, when the time comes again, extend freedom in Europe.

America put its back into this rebirth of freedom in the West, not because we sought to “impose” ourselves on unwilling nations, but because captive nations sought our aid, and we saw that our interests would advance along with our values. This was no new insight, but merely the expression in my time of what I will call America’s Grand Strategy.

From our emergence as a world power at the end of the 19th Century, the U.S. opposed spheres of influence and the closed European empires of the time. Instead, we favored an open world, ordered by rules, in which the values of our Republic and our business interests could simultaneously succeed. In our abundant self-confidence, we assumed that our Yankee ingenuity would prevail in a fair playing field and that our values would naturally follow. We would fashion the world in our own, democratic, image and get rich in the process: a vision breathtaking in its ambition. Yet our positive-sum world view, exceptional among the great powers, allowed room for others to prosper alongside the United States. In fact, the genius of the American system is that our success depended on the prosperity and security of other nations. We would lead in concert with the other great democracies of the world. George Kennan didn’t think much of what he termed America’s moralistic-legalistic tradition. But this foreign policy exceptionalism was the heart of our Grand Strategy through two World Wars, the Cold War and the post-1989 era, and it was crowned with success. Our mistakes, blunders, flaws, and shortcomings notwithstanding, the world America made after1945 and 1989 has enjoyed the longest period of general peace in the West since Roman times, and decades of prosperity.

This track record suggests that an open, rules-based world, with a united West at its core, is an asset and great achievement, and a foundation for more. Yet, some argue that this is actually a liability, that values are a luxury, that in a Hobbesian or Darwinian world we should simply take our share, the largest possible. Consider the consequences of such arguments. By abandoning our American Grand Strategy, we would diminish to being just another zero-sum great power. Spheres of influence – admired by those who don’t have to suffer the consequences — would mean our acquiescence when great powers – starting with Russia and China – dominated their neighbors through force and fear, while creating closed economic empires. Were we to recognize this, we would abandon our American sense of the potential for progress in the world; we would abandon our generations-old support for human rights, turning our backs on those who still turn to American in hope. And of course we would have to accept permanent commercial disadvantage. America would essentially retreat from whole areas of East Asia, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe. More retreat would follow as other emerging great powers carved out their own spheres, small and large.

Some so-called realists might accept such a world as making the best of a harsh world, but it is not realistic to expect that it would be peaceful or stable. Rather the reverse: a sphere of influence system would lead to cycles of rebellion and repression and, if the past 1000 years is any guide, lead to war between the great powers, because no power would be satisfied with its sphere. They never are. In 1940, Germany offered Britain a sphere of influence deal: German recognition of the British Empire in exchange for London’s recognition of Germany dominance of continental Europe. Churchill didn’t take the deal then; we should not take similar deals now.

America’s Grand Strategy did not come from nowhere: it followed from our deeper conception of ourselves and our American identity. Who are we Americans? What is our nation?

We are not an ethno-state, with identity rooted in shared blood. The option of a White Man’s Republic ended at Appomattox. On the contrary, we are “a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” We say this more often than we consider its significance. Our nation is based on an idea that, when embraced, makes us Americans. We fought a Civil War over whether that sentence – that all men are created equal – was meant literally.

Don’t take my word for it. Consider Abraham Lincoln’s speech given just after July 4, 1858. Lincoln observes that in celebrating the 4th of July, descendants of the generation of 1776 feel proud, as they should. But he goes on:

“We have besides these men—descended by blood from our ancestors – among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe…and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,’ and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, and so they are.”

And so we are, all Americans. We opened our country to the stranger, from all lands on Earth, with the door to American identity the principle of that old Declaration, “All men are created equal.” We feel that sense of American identity to this very day. And that rough sense of equality and opportunity, embedded in us, informed the way that we brought our American power to the world, America’s Grand Strategy. We have, imperfectly, and despite detours and retreat along the way, sought to realize a better world for ourselves and for others, for we understood that our prosperity and our values at home depend on that prosperity and those values being secure as far as possible in a sometimes dark world. And we have done well.

My time in the Foreign Service is ending. I am grateful for the opportunity it has given me to witness history and, sometimes, to try to bend history’s arc.

For those of you remaining in government service, I say this: serve your nation and this Administration as you serve all Administrations: with loyalty, dedication and courage. Help Secretary TIllerson. He deserves it. And he needs it. And help the President as well, putting your backs in it.

And as you serve, you will, as I did, always remember your oath to the Constitution, and to that principle behind the Constitution: our nation is dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Have faith in our nation, in our Constitution and in that proposition. Have faith in yourselves, thus inspired, and in each other.

And therefore, as Lincoln said, “LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.”

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Snapshot: Historical and Projected Foreign Service Attrition

Posted: 3:39 am  ET
Updated: Feb 14, 2:18 pm PT: Notification reportedly went out o/a 9 pm on Feb 13 that the FSO/FSS March classes are on.

 

According to the State Department, Foreign Service (FS) and Civil Service (CS) attrition is categorized as either non-retirements or retirements and as voluntary or involuntary.  Nearly all retirements in the CS are voluntary; however, in the FS, retirements may be either voluntary or involuntary.  Between FY 2016 and FY 2020, the Department projects that close to 5,400 career CS and FS employees will leave the Department due to various types of attrition.

Via state.gov:

Involuntary retirements include those due to reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65, which cannot be waived unless an employee is serving in a Presidential appointment, and those who trigger the “up-or-out” rules in the FS personnel system (e.g., restrictions in the number of years FS employees can remain in one class or below the Senior Foreign Service threshold).

Voluntary non-retirements include resignations, transfers, and deaths.

Involuntary non-retirements consist of terminations, as well as “selection out” of tenured employees and non-tenured decisions for entry level FS employees.

Overall attrition in the FS increased from 485 in FY 2014 to 539 in FY 2015. Most FS attrition is due to retirements. In FY2015, over two thirds of all separations in the FS were retirements. For the FY 2016 to FY 2020 period, the attrition mix is expected to be 81 percent retirements and 19 percent non-retirements.

FS Generalist Attrition in FY2014 is 242; in FY2015 the humber is 279. The number of retirements increased from 169 in FY 2014 to 186 in FY 2015 and the number of non-retirements increased from 73 in FY 2014 to 93 in FY 2015. FS Generalist attrition rates increased only slightly from 3.3 percent in FY 2014 to 3.8 percent in FY 2015. Most of the non-retirements were at the entry-level.

FS Specialist Attrition in FY2014 is 243;  and in FY 2015 the number is 260. The number of retirements decreased from 179 in FY 2014 to 178 in FY 2015 and the number of non- retirements grew from 64 in FY 2014 to 82 in FY 2015. FS Specialist attrition rates increased slightly from 4.7 percent in FY 2014 to 4.8 percent in FY 2015. (Counts exclude conversions within the FS and into the CS. Rates include conversions.)

attrition

|>> Attrition in the FS workforce is projected to average 491 employees per year between FY 2016 and FY 2020, nearly nine percent lower than last year’s projected average annual attrition of 541. This projection represents a two percent decrease per year when compared to the annual average attrition of 500 for the past five years.

|>>As detailed in Tables 11 and 12, the projected average annual attrition over the next five years for FS Generalists is expected to essentially mirror the average annual attrition of the previous five years, 261 vs. 257, and the average for the FS Specialist workforce is expected to decrease by five percent, 230 vs. 243.

|>>The two largest FS Specialist groups – Security Officers and Office Management Specialists – account for over 40 percent of the average annual Specialist attrition. As the attrition trends change, attrition projections will be revised next year to further reflect the changes in separations.

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Related posts:

 

Recipe For Disaster Transition @StateDept: Situation AltNormal, All Fucked Up

Posted: 12:12 pm PT
Updated: 1:15 pm PT

 

We just posted about the reported mass resignations of senior management officials at the State Department (see Patrick Kennedy, Other Officials Step Down – Yo! That’s Not the “Entire” Senior Management).

The State Department spox released the following statement:

“As is standard with every transition, the outgoing administration, in coordination with the incoming one, requested all politically appointed officers submit letters of resignation. The Department encourages and advocates for senior officers to compete for high level offices in the Department. These positions are political appointments, and require the President to nominate and the Senate to confirm them in these roles. They are not career appointments but of limited term. Of the officers whose resignations were accepted, some will continue in the Foreign Service in other positions, and others will retire by choice or because they have exceeded the time limits of their grade in service. No officer accepts a political appointment with the expectation that it is unlimited. And all officers understand that the President may choose to replace them at any time. These officers have served admirably and well. Their departure offers a moment to consider their accomplishments and thank them for their service.”

The senior management officials reported to be stepping down today are not exactly quitting because U/S Kennedy resigned.  Our understanding is that they are leaving because they, too, got letters telling them to go.

What we know right now is that a good number of senior career official received letters yesterday morning essentially saying, “Thank you for your service.  You’re done as of Friday.”  The letters went to U/S Pat Kennedy, A/S Michelle Bond (CA), Joyce Barr (A), and Gentry Smith (DS M/OFM).  We noted previously that there are 13 offices under the “M” group which includes among other things, housing, medical, logistics, personnel, training, security.  We understand that the only person left in the “M” family in a Senate-confirmed position is DGHR Arnold Chacon.

We can confirm that one career under secretary serving in an acting capacity did not receive a letter or notification to leave.  But letters reportedly also went to others, including an assistant secretary in a geographic  bureau overseeing a most challenging region saying “you’re done, once we nominate your successor.”

Here’s the problem, with the exception of the announced nominations for ambassadors to China and Israel, there are no announced nominees for the State Department in the under secretary or assistant secretary level.  How soon will the replacements come onboard? As soon as the nominees are announced, vetted, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Just to be clear, this is not the case of career employees refusing to continue working with a new administration or quitting public service, or quitting in protest — they were told to leave.

People who got these letters are “resigning.”  A good number of them are also retiring as of the 31st because they can no longer be in the Foreign Service due to mandatory retirement (they’re over 65) or they are subject to time-in-class/time-in-service restrictions.  For those who are not retirement-eligible or subject to TIC/TIS, they’re still in the Senior Foreign Service and could theoretically move into different jobs.

With the exception of the DGHR position, we understand that all Senate-confirmed positions in the “M” family are “unemcumbered” or will soon go vacant. The Trump Transition may not know this, but these positions are the most critical to keeping the Department going.  We understand that these firings cause all sorts of problems because “there are certain authorities that can only be vested in someone who is in a confirmable position.”  For example, whenever “M” is on travel, the role of “Acting M” always defaulted to the Senate confirmed senior official at Diplomatic Security, Administration, or Consular Affairs.

For real life consequences, “M” approves authorized and ordered evacuation requests and authorizes the use of K funds. So better not have an evacuation or embassy shutdown right now because without an “M” successor, even one in an acting capacity, no one has any frakking idea who is responsible.  We are presuming that the Legal Affairs bureau is trying to figure this out right now. That is, if the Legal Advisor is still in place and had not been asked to leave, too.

This need not have to happen this way. The Landing Team get to an agency, and it goes about the job of filling in positions with their selected appointees in an orderly manner. This is not the first transition that the agency has gone through.  We understand from the AP’s Matt Lee that there was only one under secretary position left at State during the Clinton to Bush transition.  But giving career employees, some with 30-40 years of dedicated service to our country a two-day notice to pack-up is not just disgraceful, it is also a recipe for disaster.

Unless somebody with authority steps in now, by Monday, the only person possibly left standing in the 7ht Floor is Ambassador Tom Shannon who is the Acting Secretary of State pending Rex Tillerson’s confirmation.  And when Rex Tillerson, who has never worked for the federal government shows up for his first day at work next week, with very few exception, he may be surrounded with people, who like him will be lost in Foggy Bottom.

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Patrick Kennedy, Other Officials Step Down – Yo! That’s Not the “Entire” Senior Management

Posted: 10:09 am PT
Updated: 10:29 am PT

 

Yesterday, Mark Toner, the State Department’s Acting Spokesperson said that “Patrick Kennedy will resign as Under Secretary for Management on January 27, and retire from the Department of State on January 31. A career Foreign Service Officer, Under Secretary Kennedy joined the Department in 1973.”  To read more about him, see The State Department’s Mr. Fix-It of Last Resort Gets the Spotlight.

Today, WaPo reports that the “entire senior management team just resigned.” In addition to U/S Kennedy stepping down, others named includes A/Barr, CA/Bond, DS/Gentry Smith, all career diplomats, and presumably are retiring from the Foreign Service. Previous departures include OBO’s non-career appointee, Lydia Muniz o/a January 20, and Diplomatic Security’s Greg Starr who retired a week before inauguration.

As we have noted before in this blog, U/S Kennedy has been the Under Secretary for Management since 2007. He is the longest serving “M in the history of the State Department, and only the second career diplomat to encumber this position. U/S Kennedy’s departure is a major change, however, it is not unexpected.

The “M” family of offices is the train that runs the State Department, it also affects every part of employees lives in the agency. But there are 13 offices under the “M” group.  Four departures this week including Kennedy, plus two previous ones do not make the “entire” senior management.  If there are other retirements we are not hearing, let us know.  But as one former senior State Department official told us  too much hyperventilation at the moment “is distracting from things that really are problematic.”  

The challenge now for Mr. Tillerson who we expect will be confirmed as the 69th Secretary of State next week, is to find the right successor to lead the “M” group.  We hope he picks one who knows the levers and switches in Foggy Bottom and not one who will get lost in the corridors.

Update: Via CCN “Any implication that that these four people quit is wrong,” one senior State Department official said. “These people are loyal to the secretary, the President and to the State Department. There is just not any attempt here to dis the President. People are not quitting and running away in disgust. This is the White House cleaning house.”

Update: Statement from Mark Toner, Acting Spokesperson:

“As is standard with every transition, the outgoing administration, in coordination with the incoming one, requested all politically appointed officers submit letters of resignation. The Department encourages and advocates for senior officers to compete for high level offices in the Department. These positions are political appointments, and require the President to nominate and the Senate to confirm them in these roles. They are not career appointments but of limited term. Of the officers whose resignations were accepted, some will continue in the Foreign Service in other positions, and others will retire by choice or because they have exceeded the time limits of their grade in service. No officer accepts a political appointment with the expectation that it is unlimited. And all officers understand that the President may choose to replace them at any time. These officers have served admirably and well. Their departure offers a moment to consider their accomplishments and thank them for their service.”

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Foreign Service Retirements, and State Department Farewells and Departures

Posted: 1:50 am ET

 

On November 15, Secretary Kerry congratulated Ambassador Rick Olson on his retirement after three decades of dedicated service to the United States. Prior to his retirement, Ambassador Olson served as Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Secretary Kerry cited his service as U.S. Ambassador to both the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, Coordinating Director for Development and Economic Affairs at U.S. Embassy Kabul, and other positions in Mexico, Uganda, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Iraq, NATO, as well as a number of leadership positions here in Washington. On November 28, Secretary Kerry awarded Ambassador Olson the Distinguished Service Award during a ceremony at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. More photos here via Flickr. Secretary Kerry’s remarks on the Retirement of Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard G. Olson, 11/15/16.

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presents Ambassador Rick Olson, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), with the Distinguished Service Award during a ceremony at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on November 28, 2016. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presents Ambassador Rick Olson, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), with the Distinguished Service Award during a ceremony at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on November 28, 2016. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]


On November 30, Ambassador Deborah Jones announced on Twitter that she is retiring from the Foreign Service after 34 years of service as a diplomat.  Ambassador Jones is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, having been with the Department of State since 1982. She served previously as U.S. Ambassador to Libya and as Ambassador to Kuwait. She also previously served as Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, Turkey.  Her previous overseas assignments include: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Baghdad, Iraq; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Damascus, Syria.  Her service in Washington, D.C. includes two years as Country Director of the Office of Arabian Peninsula and Iran Affairs in addition to assignments as Staff Assistant to Assistant Secretary for Near East and South Asia Affairs Richard Murphy, Acting Public Affairs Advisor to Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs, Desk Officer for Jordan, and duty in the Department’s Operations Center.  She speaks Arabic, Spanish and French.

safiradeborah

 

Tom Cochran was Deputy Coordinator for Platforms in the Bureau of International Information Programs, from March 2014 until this past November. In this role, he was responsible for providing places for public engagement that prioritize individuals, facilitate long-term relationships, and simplify public diplomacy to make it more measurable. Before his appointment at the Department of State, he was the Chief Technology Officer at Atlantic Media, publisher of international news outlets including: The Atlantic, Quartz, Government Executive and National Journal. Prior to joining the Atlantic Media, he was the Director of New Media Technologies for the White House where he led the team of people that created the “We the People” petition website. Mr. Cochran, a third culture kid who grew up in Japan and Thailand is a son of a foreign service officer.

Richard Stengel, the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs tweeted today as his last day as “R” at the State Department. Mountainrunner notes back in July that in January 2012, the office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy was ‘unencumbered’ 30% of the time (as in, a confirmed, not acting, Under Secretary was in place). By the time Rick Stengel was sworn in as the third Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy of the Obama Administration (the Bush Administration had four Under Secretaries), the vacancy rate was 33%. On July 1, 2016, Stengel became the longest serving Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy at 870 days, surpassing the previous record holder, Karen Hughes, who served 868 days. As of today, that’s 998 days on Stengel’s record.

The U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland Suzi LeVine announced her departure from post on FB for January 20.  “I wanted to let you know that my family and I will be leaving Switzerland on January 20, 2017 and heading back to our beloved Seattle. This opportunity to serve as President Obama’s personal representative here to these extraordinary countries of Switzerland and Liechtenstein has been rewarding, humbling, and truly awesome – beyond our wildest imaginations!”

U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard announced that he will depart Pretoria on December 16.  Prior to being appointed U.S. Ambassador to South Africa,he served as the Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee, a position he held since 2011. Previously, he served as an Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Political Affairs from 2009 to 2011. Prior to that, he was the National Political Director for Obama for America.

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Funding IRAs When One Spouse Is Unemployed #ForeignServiceSpouses

Posted: 2:28 am ET

 

There are over 11,000 Foreign Service adult family members overseas. As of April 2016, 57% are not employed (29% works inside the mission, 14% works outside the mission).  Funding an IRA when one spouse is unemployed is something that some FS spouses already do but if you’re not doing it, this is something you may want to talk about with your working spouse.

Via The Street:

Funding an IRA when one spouse is unemployed or taking a sabbatical can occur if the working spouse makes the contribution. The spouse who is earning income can support the contribution of the non-working spouse’s account, said John Bowen, a retail sales supervisor for Equity Institutional, a financial planning firm in Westlake, Ohio. Whether the spouse contributes to a company 401(k) is not relevant. The contribution can be up to $5,500 for people up to the age of 50 and $6,500 if you are 50 or older in 2016.

Read more about Roth IRA here.

 

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Happy Retirement Wishes to Foggy Bottom’s Chief Librarian Hugh Howard

Posted: 2:45 pm EDT

 

We want to send best wishes to Hugh Howard on his retirement as chief librarian of the Ralph J. Bunche Library at the State Department. He will officially retire on November 3.  He joined the Bunche Library in 2001 from USIA where he had been since 1995.  He was Branch Chief for Information Services or Reference until November 2011 when he was selected to be Chief Librarian.

Mr. Howard very kindly scanned for us the Chris Argyris study on the Foreign Service which is no longer in circulation, and available only in paper copy at the library. That study is now part of their digital collection.

When we asked him about his stint as Foggy Bottom’s librarian, he said, “I am only one of a staff of great librarians. I’ve never worked with a better group of librarians. I’ll be going, but the staff will continue to do great work.”

The Ralph J. Bunche Library of the U.S. Department of State is the oldest Federal Government library. It was founded by the first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson in 1789. It was dedicated to and renamed the Ralph J. Bunche Library on May 5, 1997. The Library has a large and important collection of unclassified and published information sources on foreign relations.

The Ralph J. Bunche Library is a Federal Depository Library. The mission of the Library is to support the research needs of personnel of the Department of State. The Library is not open to the public and does not lend books directly to members of the public. The Library will lend books, at its discretion, to other libraries. Members of the public must contact a library through which they may borrow books from the Ralph J. Bunche Library.

Enjoy your retirement, Hugh!

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Picur v. Kerry: Court slaps down FSGB annuity decision as “arbitrary and capricious”

Posted: 1:37 am EDT

 

This case is about a USAID/OIG criminal investigator, an annuity calculation, and a Foreign Service Grievance Board decision.

According to court documents, the starting point for computing an annuity payment under the Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 4041–4069c-1. is section 4046(a)(1), which provides that:

[t]he annuity of a participant shall be equal to 2 percent of his or her average basic salary for the highest 3 consecutive years of service multiplied by the number of years, not exceeding 35, of service credit obtained in accordance with sections 4056 and 4057 of this title[.]

22 U.S.C. § 4046(a)(1). The statute does not define “basic salary” as that term is used in section 4046(a)(1); however, section 4046(a)(8) makes clear that a participant’s “basic pay” for annuity calculation purposes includes the special differential pay that Foreign Service officers are authorized to receive. Id. § 4046(a)(8). Moreover, section 4046(a)(9) provides that, when determining the average basic salary for the highest 3 consecutive years of service—commonly referred to as the participant’s “high three” (see Compl. ¶ 13)—“the basic salary or basic pay of any member of the [Foreign] Service whose official duty station is outside the continental United States shall be considered to be the salary or pay that would have been paid to the member had the member’s official duty station been Washington, D.C., including locality-based comparability payments[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 4046(a)(9).4

Here is a quick summary of the case:

Plaintiff Gregory Picur served as a Foreign Service criminal investigator for the Office of Inspector General of the United States Agency for International Development (“USAID OIG”) from the 1990s until his retirement in May of 2010. The dispute in the instant case concerns the State Department’s calculation of Picur’s retirement annuity, which Picur alleges is incorrect. (See Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶ 14.)1 Generally speaking, Picur contends that the State Department wrongly based its annuity calculation on what the agency says Picur’s salary should have been at the time of his retirement, rather than on the compensation that Picur actually received. (See id. ¶¶ 9–14.) Picur filed an administrative grievance contesting the agency’s calculation of his retirement annuity, but the State Department denied his grievance (see id. ¶ 4), and on appeal of that denial, the Foreign Service Grievance Board (“FSGB”) upheld the agency’s calculation (see id. ¶¶ 5–8), finding that the State Department had determined Picur’s retirement annuity in accordance with agency policies (see, e.g., id. ¶ 35). Picur has filed the instant action against Secretary of State John Kerry (“Defendant” or “the Secretary”), asking this Court to review and to set aside the FSGB’s conclusion as arbitrary, capricious, and not in accordance with law under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”).

[…] Defendant argues that the FSGB’s decision should be upheld because the Board examined the relevant evidence and provided a satisfactory explanation for its conclusion. (See Def.’s Mem. in Supp. of Def.’s Mot. (“Def.’s Br.”), ECF No. 10, at 22–27.) But this Court finds that, when it affirmed the State Department’s annuity calculation, the FSGB did not consider the crucial issue of whether or not the statutory scheme that governs calculation of Picur’s annuity permits the agency to treat the annuity computation process as an opportunity to correct purported prior salary overpayments. In other words, it is clear to this Court that the FSGB ignored a key aspect of the problem that it was deciding in a manner that rendered its decision to uphold the State Department’s annuity calculation arbitrary and capricious in violation of the APA. Consequently, Defendant’s motion for summary judgment must be DENIED, the FSGB’s decision must be VACATED, and the matter must be REMANDED for further consideration.

The court’s conclusion:

Whatever the appropriate statutory analysis, the administrative record in this case makes crystal clear that the FSGB failed to consult any of the statutory provisions that specifically prescribe how an annuity is properly calculated in this context, and it appears to have merely assumed that the State Department has the power to decide that an annuitant’s actual high three salary average is too high for the purpose of an annuity calculation. Consequently, this Court concludes that the Board failed to consider an important aspect of the problem with which it was presented, and thus its decision was arbitrary and capricious for the purpose of the APA. See, e.g., Olsen, 990 F. Supp. at 40 (granting summary judgment for plaintiff where the FSGB “did not properly consider the legality of the [agency’s] policies”); see also Quantum Enterm’t, Ltd. v. U.S. Dep’t of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 597 F. Supp. 2d 146, 153 (D.D.C. 2009) (holding that where an agency’s “decision [i]s incomplete, [it] violates the prohibition against arbitrary or capricious agency decisions” (citation omitted)).

We are posting the Memorandum Opinion for Picur v. Kerry, Civil Action No. 14-cv-1492 (KBJ) in the the member’s only section of Diplopundit’s forum. Check it out in the forum’s document dump.

The redacted FSGB Record of Proceeding (ROP) for this case is available online here (pdf) via fsgb.gov.

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Burn Bag: WAE looking for a job gets “radio silence” … does not have large wart on nose

Via Burn Bag:

“Your posting about vacancies in the CT Bureau is interesting for retirees trying to land WAE gigs.  I have been in the central HR WAE register for nearly a year and haven’t heard a peep from anyone needing help.  I wrote letters to many bureau HR Specialists and individuals, and so far, “radio silence.”  I do not have a large wart on my nose, either.

Most bureau HR Specialists seem to know nothing about the central HR WAE register, continuing to maintain their own lists of retirees, and using the same few WAEers over and over.  While actively employed as an FSO, I experienced serious understaffing throughout the Department.  DOS urgently needs to work on a better plan for a contingent workforce that includes retirees and EFMs — a system that provides more transparency and encourages bureaus to use retirees and EFMs to fill more gaps and to work on special projects — to get things done and to relieve crushing workloads on many FSOs.  Many FSOs need to adapt an attitude that employees cannot “leap into the breach” and cover two, three, four positions for a sustained period of time.  The prevalent philosophy of masochism within the FSO ranks must change.”

via tumblr.com

via tumblr.com

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*WAE | The term WAE (When Actually Employed) is used in the State Department to describe a reemployed annuitant who works on an intermittent basis for no more than 1040 hours during each service year and whose appointment is not to exceed one year. Bureaus utilize WAEs to fill staffing gaps and peak workload periods. While the acronym WAE is currently well-known inside State, new employees understandably find it confusing. According to state.gov, in order to transition out of using the term WAE, the program has been renamed the Reemployed Annuitant (REA) Program. REA/WAE appointments are temporary, and do not exceed one year; a reemployed annuitant is not eligible to receive any other benefits.

Is State/OBO’s Intense Focus on Design Excellence Driving Engineering Employees Away?

Posted: 1:22 am EDT
Updated: April 16, 2015, 7:42 pm PDT

 

Last week, there was a Burn Bag submission we posted on the many losses in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ engineering staff.  We’re republishing it below, as well as reblogging a post from The Skeptical Bureaucrat. Maybe this would help save the State Department leadership from having to say later on that no one made them aware of this issue.

We’re actually considering sending a love note to the 7th floor. Something like, “Hey, subscribe to Diplopundit. You may not always like what you read but we’ll tell you what do not always want to hear.” Or something like that.

On second thought, maybe we shouldn’t. They might decide to go back to just Internet Explorer and then all of our readers there won’t be able to read this blog ever again. In any case, here is that burn bag submission, repeated for emphasis:

Is the State Department leadership aware that there have been many losses of OBO [Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations] engineers in the last 18 months, leaving more than a 20% deficit (OBO words via email, not mine) in engineering staff, with more contemplating separation? Does it care?

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Below from The Skeptical Bureaucrat: Have Hard Hat, Will Travel (used with permission):

Diplopundit’s Burn Bag entry about OBO’s losses in engineering employees made me think back to the retirements and resignations I’ve noticed among my good friends in Overseas Buildings Operations over the last couple years. Yeah, I think there is indeed a pattern there.

A demoralization among OBO’s engineers would kind of make sense in the context of OBO’s overwhelming focus on Design Excellence, or, to use the new name for it, Just Plain Excellence. (The word “design” was dropped from the program’s name about one day after the disastrous House Oversight Committee hearing in which OBO’s Director and Deputy Director were severely criticized for favoring artsy & expensive embassy office buildings over functional & sensibly-priced ones.) In a Design Excellence organization, the architects are firmly in charge and the engineers will always play second fiddle.

According to the Burn Bag information, OBO has lost about 20 percent of its engineering staff. There is substantiation for that claim in the current USAJobs open announcement for Foreign Service Construction Engineers, which says OBO has “many vacancies” in that field:

Job Title: Foreign Service Construction Engineer
Department: Department Of State
Agency: Department of State
Agency Wide Job Announcement Number: CON-2015-0002

MANY vacancies – Washington DC,

A Foreign Service Construction Engineer (FSCE) is an engineer or architect, in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations working specifically in the Office of Construction Management, responsible for managing Department of State construction projects overseas. The FSCE is a member of a U.S. Government team that ensures construction is professionally performed according to applicable plans, specifications, schedules, and standards. The FSCE must adhere to the highest standards of integrity, dependability, attention to detail, teamwork and cooperation while accepting the need to travel, to live overseas, and when necessary, to live away from family.

Those vacancies are for permanent, direct-hire, Foreign Service employees. In addition, there were also personal service contractor vacancies for OBO engineers announced on Monster.com five days ago. That one is looking for General Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, and Civil/Structural Engineers.

Why isn’t there also a need for Electrical Engineers? After all, you can’t spell Geek without two Es.

It looks like engineers are indeed exiting OBO in large numbers. Why that is, I can’t be sure. But I have to think it is not a good thing for my friends in OBO.

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Sources tell us that William Miner, the director of the OBO’s design and engineering office was one of those who left in the last 18 months and Patrick Collins, the chief architect retired in January this year. 

The USAjobs announcement cited by TSB does not indicate how many vacancies OBO plans to fill.  In addition to the open vacancies for Foreign Service Construction Engineers, USAJobs.gov also has one vacancy for a Supervisory Engineer (DEU) and one vacancy for Supervisory Architect (DEU).  The monster.com announcement linked to above includes full-time, non-permanent-temporary non-status jobs with initial 1 year appointment renewable for 4 years. All must be able to obtain and maintain a Top Secret security clearance. Oh, and relocation expenses will NOT be paid.

About OBO

 These are the jobs advertised via monster.com:

 

A  2013 HR stats indicate that OBO has 81 construction engineers including 10 who are members of the Senior Foreign Service (SFS).  Those numbers are, obviously, outdated now.   And we’re not sure what “more than 20% deficit” actually means in actual staffing numbers. But if we take a fifth from that HR stats, that’s about 16 engineers gone who must be replaced not just in the staffing chart but also in various construction projects overseas.

Even if OBO can ramp up its hiring the next 12 months, it will still have the challenge of bridging the experience gap. A kind of experience that you can’t reconstruct or replicate overnight unless OBO has an implantable chip issued together with badges for new engineers. Experience takes time, time that OBO does not have in great abundance. Experience that OBO also needs to rebuild every five years since in some of these cases, the new hires are on limited non-career appointments that do not exceed five years.

According to OBO, the State Department is entering an overseas construction program of unprecedented scale in the history of the bureau.  What might also be unprecedented is OBO engineers running out the door in droves.

Why is this happening? We can’t say for sure but …

  • We’ve heard allegations that an official has “run people out of the Department with his/her histrionic behaviors” and other unaddressed issues in the workplace that have generated complaints from staff but remained unresolved.
  • There are also allegations of “poor treatment” of OBO employees and families while in the Department or even when trying to separate.
  • One commenter to the Burn Bag post writes about problems within the Department of “an extreme lack of planning which will have caused our children to attend three schools in three countries just this year alone.”
  • Another commenter writes, “I know it’s TRUE, because I recently departed. Somewhere along the way OBO decided that Design Excellence meant more architecture and less engineering.”
Foggy Bottom, you’ve got a problem. People do not just quit their jobs and the security that goes with it for no reason. Somebody better be home to fix this before it gets much worse.
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