Why State/OIG Should Look Into Diplomatic Security’s Mina Chang Headache

 

NBC News did a follow up report on the Mina Change story it broke that lead to the resignation of the deputy assistant secretary of state at the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations. Excerpt:

To secure her job at the State Department in April, Chang leveraged social connections to senior officials who could help open the doors to the administration, including Brian Bulatao, a close friend and deputy to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; a State Department official and former defense contractor who she succeeded as deputy assistant secretary, Pete Marocco; and a congressional staffer for key GOP lawmaker Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, multiple sources said. Marocco endorsed her for the job and McCaul wrote her a recommendation letter.
[…]
By the time Rep. McCaul issued the recommendation letter, Chang’s nomination was moving ahead thanks to her own contacts in the administration, said a spokesperson for the congressman, Kaylin Minton.
[..]
Chang lists just $12,000 in income before she took the State Department job and listed no salary from her charity. According to papers from her divorce case in 2011, she was due to receive nearly $1,400 a month in child support and $500 in alimony per month for a year from her ex-husband, a real estate developer. She lived in an affluent neighborhood in Dallas in a high-end apartment building, former colleagues and acquaintances said.

The updated NBC News piece also notes that “The State Department and its Diplomatic Security Service, which helps vet appointees, did not respond to requests for comment.”
Oh, dang!
State and DSS are probably hoping that this story will just go away now that she had submitted her resignation. But there is something in this story that is troubling.  If it was this easy for her to get this position despite the now revealed holes in her resume,  how many more are there in Foggy Bottom who were hired under similar circumstances? And how exactly did Diplomatic Security “missed” um …  a few things that reporters were able to easily dig up? Is this a case of Diplomatic Security “missing” a few things or a case of the security bureau being “responsive” to the 7th Floor?
Perhaps more importantly, if it was this easy to get around these “holes” and get a deputy assistant secretary position (which typically requires years and years of experience for career appointees), just how hard could it be for foreign intel services to do the same?
Now, we’re not suggesting that Diplomatic Security investigates itself on how this individual got through its security clearance process,  or see if the bureau has systemic holes in that process. We think State/OIG or a congressional panel with oversight authority should look into it.

 

Related posts:
State/CSO DAS Mina Chang Resigns After NBC News Asked About Newly Discovered False Claims;
Dear @StateDept, How Many More Mina Changs Do You Have?

State/CSO DAS Mina Chang Resigns After NBC News Asked About Newly Discovered False Claims

 

We recently posted about State/CSO DAS Mina Chang following an NBC News investigation (see Dear @StateDept, How Many More Mina Changs Do You Have?). NBC News reported on November 18 that Ms. Change has resigned from the State Department “two and a half hours after NBC News went to her spokesperson to ask about newly discovered false claims she had made about her charity work.”

Senior Trump administration official Mina Chang resigned from her job at the State Department two and a half hours after NBC News went to her spokesperson to ask about newly discovered false claims she had made about her charity work.

NBC News had previously reported that Chang, the deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stability Operations, had embellished her resume with misleading claims about her educational achievements and the scope of her non-profit’s work — even posting a fake cover of Time magazine with her face on it.

“It is essential that my resignation be seen as a protest and not as surrender because I will not surrender my commitment to serve, my fidelity to the truth, or my love of country,” Chang wrote in her resignation letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Indeed, I intend to fight for those things as a citizen in the days and years to come.”

Chang said she had been “unfairly maligned, unprotected by my superiors, and exposed to a media with an insatiable desire for gossip and scandal, genuine or otherwise.”
[…[
The newly discovered false claims include misrepresenting a trip to Afghanistan as a humanitarian mission, listing an academic who says he never worked for her nonprofit as an employee, claiming a nonexistent degree from the University of Hawaii, inflating an award and claiming to be an “ambassador” for the United Nations’ cultural agency UNESCO.

Her bio page at state.gov now display a “We apologize for the inconvenience…” page.
We still want to know how she got to Foggy Bottom. That has implications not just with the vetting process but also Diplomatic Security’s security clearance process.

Whistleblower Protection Memo – How Useless Are You, Really?

Back in July, we blogged that State/OIG cited a State Department’s revocation of an employee’s security clearance in retaliation for whistleblowing in its Semi-Annual Report to Congress for October 2017-March 2018. State/OIG recommended that the whistleblower’s security clearance be reinstated (see State/OIG Finds @StateDept Revoked Security Clearance in Retaliation For Whistleblowing).  Retaliatory revocation is not an unheard of practice but we believed this is the first time it’s been reported publicly to the Congress.

Also in July, there was a joint OIG-State memo noting that “Whistleblowers perform a critically important service to the Department of State and to the public when they disclose fraud, waste, and abuse. The Department is committed to protecting all personnel against reprisal for whistleblowing.  This summer OIG told us that Congress enacted a new provision in 2017 that requires an agency to suspend for at least 3 days a supervisor found to have engaged in a prohibited personnel practice, such as whistleblower retaliation, and to propose removal of a supervisor for the second prohibited personnel practice. (see @StateDept’s Retaliatory Security Clearance Revocation Now Punishable By [INSERT Three Guesses].

In September, we note the time lapse since the official report was made to the Congress and wondered what action the State Department took in this case.  If the State Department believes, as the memo states that “Whistleblowers perform a critically important service to the Department of State and to the public” we really wanted to know what the State Department has done to the official/officials responsible for this retaliatory security clearance revocation.

We also want to see how solid is that commitment in protecting personnel against reprisal — not in words, but action.  So we’ve asked the State Department the following questions:

1) Has the security clearance been reinstated for the affected employee, and if so, when?

2) Has the senior official who engaged in this prohibited personnel practice been suspended per congressional mandate, and if so, when and for how long? and

3) Has the State Department proposed a removal of any supervisor/s for engaging in this prohibited personnel practice now or in the past?

As you can imagine, our friends over there are busy swaggering and to-date have not found the time to write back.

Folks, it’s been eight months since that annual report went to the U.S. Congress. If you’re not going to penalize the official or officials who revoked an employee’s security clearance out of retaliation, you were just wasting the letters of the alphabet and toner in that darn paper writing out a whistleblower protection memo.

And the Congress should be rightly pissed.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Related posts:

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

 

Via State/OIG

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

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Presidential Policy Directive-19 (PPD-19) PDF

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

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

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

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

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@StateDept Cites 10 Cases Where Employees Were Placed on Admin Leave, See #10

Posted: 12:41 ET
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3 FAM 3464 defines “Excuse Absence” (commonly known as administrative leave) as absence from duty administratively authorized or approved by the leave-approving officer and does not result in a charge in leave of any kind or in loss of basic salary. 3 FAM 3464.102 also provides for Conduct-Related Excused Absence “Excused absence may be directed in rare circumstances and when authorized as provided by 3 FAH-1 H-3461.2 when an investigation, inquiry, or disciplinary action regarding the employee’s conduct is pending, has been requested, or will be requested within 2 workdays, and the continued presence of the employee in the workplace may pose a threat to the employee or to others, or may result in loss of, or damage to, U.S. Government property, or may otherwise jeopardize legitimate U.S. Government interests.”

According to grievance records, during the discovery phase of FSGB No. 2015-029, the State Department provided grievant with a spread sheet identifying 10 cases in which employees were placed on administrative leave pursuant to 3 FAM 3464.1.-2.

Via FSGB:  We quote the stated reasons for the administrative leave as follows (with numbering added):

  • 1) Ongoing investigation. Employee admitted to taking extra passport applications from courier beyond allowed quota. . . . (3 separate cases);
  • 2) Arrest based on violation of protective order;
  • 3) Allegations of misconduct and alcohol consumption while at US Embassy;
  • 4) Employee’s clearance suspended – reasons unknown. Employee failed to meet DS for compelled interview;
  • 5) By letter dated 11/14/13, PSS notified her of suspension of clearance. . . . ;
  • 6) Security Clearance suspended by DS. . . . ;
  • 7) DS investigating employee fraud/impersonating supervisor to obtain federal housing benefits;
  • 8) Arrested on child pornography charges. (no indication employee used USG equipment);
  • 9) Incident resulting in death of Ambassador and others. Admin leave while office evaluates appropriate action (3 separate cases);
  • 10) Employee investigated based on allegations of the rape of 2 women.

Grievant lacks any basis for asserting that the AL granted in these other cases did not serve USG “interests.” Those interests are broad, going far beyond the obvious trauma and safety issues as to other employees. Realistically, all 10 cases (based on the brief descriptions given in the record) invoked some type of governmental interest that was rather self-evident, e.g., stopping an employee from impersonating a supervisor or investigating the actual suspension of someone’s security clearance.21 The bottom line is that the Department’s decisions to grant AL to other persons who were subject to various investigations is not even pertinent to the grievant, [REDACTED].

The FSGB finds that “administrative leave is not an entitlement that would provide the grievant with certain safeguards, but is instead a prerogative administered by management to meet the needs of the Service.”

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Sexual Assault Related posts:

 

FBI to Veteran Diplomat Robin Raphel: “Do you know any foreigners?” #criminalizingdiplomacy

Posted: 1:29  pm ET
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We’ve posted previously about Ambassador Robin Raphel in this blog. See Case Against Veteran Diplomat Robin Raphel Ends Without Charges, Who’s Gonna Say Sorry?. Also below:

Today, the Wall Street Journal runs an extensive account of what happened and why this case is a concerning one for American diplomats:

The NSA regularly swept up Pakistani communications “to, from or about” senior U.S. officials working in the country. Some American officials would appear in Pakistani intercepts as often as once a week. What Raphel didn’t realize was that her desire to engage with foreign officials, the very skill set her supervisors encouraged, had put a target on her back.

The FBI didn’t have a clear picture of where Raphel fit on the State Department organizational chart. She was a political adviser with the rank of ambassador but she wasn’t a key policy maker anymore. She seemed to have informal contacts with everyone who mattered in Islamabad—more, even, than the sitting ambassador and the CIA station chief.

[…]
State Department officials said that when they spoke to the FBI agents, they had the feeling they were explaining the basics of how diplomats worked.

At times, Raphel’s colleagues pushed back—warning the FBI that their investigation risked “criminalizing diplomacy,” according to a former official who was briefed on the interviews.

In one interview, the agents asked James Dobbins, who served as SRAP from 2013 to 2014, whether it was OK for Raphel to talk to a Pakistani source about information that wasn’t restricted at the time, but would later be deemed classified.

“If somebody tells you something in one conversation, you might write that up and it becomes classified,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean the next time you see them that you can’t talk about what you’d already talked about.”

[…]

Over the past two years, diplomats in Pakistan and the U.S. have scaled back contacts, according to officials in both countries. U.S. diplomats say they are afraid of what the NSA and the FBI might hear about them.

“What happened to Raphel could happen to any of us,” said Ryan Crocker, one of the State Department’s most highly decorated career ambassadors. Given the empowerment of law enforcement after 9/11 and the U.S.’s growing reliance on signals intelligence in place of diplomatic reporting, he said, “we will know less and we will be less secure.”

“Look what happened to the one person who was out talking to people,” said Dan Feldman, Raphel’s former boss at State. “Does that not become a cautionary tale?”

[…]

Diplomatic Security had yet to restore her security clearance. Some of her friends at the State Department said they believed the FBI opposed the idea.

Kerry and Raphel stood close together for only a couple of minutes. On the sidelines of the noisy gathering, Kerry leaned over and whispered into Raphel’s ear: “I am sorry about what has happened to you.”

Read in full below:

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Oh Damn and Blast! @StateDept’s Administrative Leave Data Is One Hot Mess

Posted: 3:32 am ET
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According to State/OIG, administrative leave is granted to employees as an authorized absence from duty without loss of pay or use of leave for various reasons unrelated to employee conduct, such as blood donations and weather-related closures. It may also be granted to employees who are under investigation for misconduct.  Senator Charles Grassley asked State/OIG for a description of the State Department’s administrative leave policies and the controls in place to prevent extensive use of administrative leave. On October 3, State/OIG posted online its report, Department of State Has Administrative Leave Policies but Lacks Complete and Accurate Data on the Use of Leave.

In response to the congressional request, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) evaluated the use of administrative leave at the Department of State (Department). The objectives of the evaluation were (1) to describe the Department’s administrative leave policies and (2) to determine the amount of administrative leave Department employees used from January 2011 to January 2015 and the circumstances surrounding the use of such leave.

State/OIG obtained data on administrative leave granted to Department employees from 2011 through 2015 from the Bureau of Human Resources (HR). For several of these employees, OIG also reviewed select records from the Time and Attendance Telecommunications Line (TATEL) system, the Department’s time and attendance tracking system.

Excerpt from OIG report:

  • At the Department of State, administrative leave can be authorized in 26 circumstances not related to conduct. Employees under investigation for misconduct may also be placed on administrative leave if their continued presence in the workplace may pose a threat to the employee or to others, may result in loss of or damage to government property, or may otherwise jeopardize legitimate government interests. Conduct- related administrative leave over 16 hours may only be granted by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Human Resources.
  • OIG intended to determine the amount of administrative leave used by Department employees from January 2011 to January 2015 and the circumstances surrounding the use of such leave. However, the Department did not provide OIG with sufficient data to make these determinations. Consequently, OIG is unable to make any assessments about the Department’s use of administrative leave. OIG identified two key deficiencies in the data the Department provided: (1) the Department lacks a centralized source of information regarding the justification for why administrative leave is granted and (2) HR data on the hours of administrative leave used conflicts with data from individual employing offices.

Administrative Leave Not Related to Conduct: 26 Circumstances

  • There are 26 circumstances not related to conduct where administrative leave can be authorized. These circumstances include Federal holidays, voting, hazardous weather conditions, packing.unpacking, blood/organ donation, funerals, time zone dislocation adjustment period to name a few and several miscellaneous reasons like group dismissals for a reasonable period due to extreme climatic conditions; civil disturbance; transportation failure; breakdown of heating/cooling systems; natural disaster, etc.; jury duty; and absence due to an injury incurred while serving abroad and resulting from war, insurgency, mob violence or hostile action.  The amount of time authorized by the FAM and the FAH for administrative leave in these circumstances varies from one hour to one year.
State/HR’s Unreliable Data
  • In response to OIG’s request for information on administrative leave granted to Department employees, HR provided a report created by CGFS using TATEL data transferred to the payroll system. According to this data, the Department recorded 8.36 million hours of administrative leave for 33,205 employees from January 2011 to January 2015; however, their data was unreliable. Specifically, OIG identified two key deficiencies in the data that the Department provided. […] Currently, the only way to determine the justification for an employee’s administrative leave is to review the timesheet, ask the employee, or ask the employing bureau. The Department is currently updating its payroll systems, including modernization of its time and attendance systems. Once this project is completed, there will be more information available on specific uses of administrative leave. However, there is no expected completion date for the project.
  • OIG selected the 100 employees with the most hours of recorded administrative leave based on HR’s data and requested the justification from the applicable employing bureaus.17 According to the data provided by HR, these 100 employees recorded over 320,000 hours of administrative leave during the period under evaluation. However, after reviewing the information the bureaus provided, OIG found that administrative leave hours reported by HR were incorrect for 84 of these 100 employees (84 percent). Four of the employees were on work-related travel as opposed to on administrative leave. The other 80 employees were at work on regular duty between January 2011 and January 2015—with the exception of holidays, scheduled sick and annual leave, and weather-related closures—and their time and attendance records maintained by their employing bureau did not support the large amounts of administrative leave indicated by the HR data. OIG interviews with several employees and supervisors corroborated this information.
  • Although HR officials told OIG that timekeeping error was the most likely source of the discrepancies between the HR data and the information provided by the employing bureaus,19 reports from TATEL reviewed by OIG demonstrated that timekeeper error does not explain the entirety of the large balances of the administrative leave indicated by the HR data.20

Administrative Leave Related to Conduct

  • OPM guidance states that administrative leave should be used only as “an immediate, temporary solution to the problem of an employee who should be kept away from the worksite.”13 OPM also recommends that administrative leave “should not be used for an extended or indefinite period or on a recurring basis” and agencies should “consider other options prior to use of administrative leave.”
  • Department policies follow this guidance and contain several controls to ensure that administrative leave is used only as a temporary solution for employees who should be kept out of the workplace. The FAM defines conduct-related administrative leave as leave authorized “when an investigation, inquiry, or disciplinary action regarding the employee’s conduct is pending, has been requested, or will be requested within 2 workdays, and the continued presence of the employee in the workplace may pose a threat to the employee or to others, or may result in loss of, or damage to, U.S. government property, or may otherwise jeopardize legitimate U.S. Government interests
  • The Deputy Assistant Secretary told OIG that he and his staff carefully scrutinize each request to ensure that there is sufficient documentation that an employee’s continued presence in the workplace poses an actual problem. They also encourage the bureau to explore other alternatives and have, in some cases, referred the issue to the Office of Civil Rights, the Office of the Ombudsman, or the Bureau of Medical Services. The Deputy Assistant Secretary has disapproved administrative leave requests when alternatives exist or when there is insufficient documentation of a problem.
  • Even when HR approves a request for administrative leave, leave is only authorized for a 30 day maximum. According to HR, this incremental approach ensures that it will reevaluate the employee’s status periodically to determine whether administrative leave continues to be necessary. HR identified three main justifications to place an employee on administrative leave for over 16 hours:
  1. loss of security clearance
  2. medical-related issues
  3. violence or threatening conduct

63,000 Hours in a 4-Year Period

  • Despite these deficiencies, OIG found that more complete information exists for employees on conduct-related administrative leave. For example, sixteen of the 100 employees OIG reviewed had accurately recorded administrative leave and 15 of these were conduct-related cases. For each of these cases, HR confirmed that it had followed Department policy in granting administrative leave to ensure that the employee’s continued presence in the workplace posed a serious problem. These employees represented approximately 63,000 hours of administrative leave in the four-year period
  • According to HR, one of the reasons for these large balances is the difficulty in finding alternative work assignments or locations for employees who are on administrative leave because their security clearances have been suspended. The nature of the Department’s work limits the number of positions for which a security clearance is not required. Department offices may have unclassified work that employees can perform, but those employees would have to be escorted and monitored because most offices are secure spaces. Furthermore, employees who have had their clearances suspended may pose a risk even in unclassified areas.

The original report is posted here (PDF), or read in full below (click on the arrow at the lower right hand side of the box below to maximize view).

Related posts:

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@StateDept Updates Its Polygraph Policy: Are Results Shared For Security Clearance/Assignment Purposes?

Posted: 1:26 am ET
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On September 1, 2016, the State Department updated its 12 FAM 250 policy on the use of the polygraph to examine Department employees (including employees on the General Schedule, the Foreign Service, on Personal Service Contracts, Limited NonCareer Appointees, and Locally Employed Staff).  

Per 12 FAM 251.2-2, the Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence (DS/DO/ICI) Counterterrorism Vetting Unit (CCV) administers the polygraph program and is responsible for hiring polygraph examiners, responding to requests for polygraph support, deploying polygraph examiners, and maintaining relevant records.

The update includes the following:
  • Streamlines the polygraph examination process by removing a requirement to seek pre-approval before a DS or OIG agent can ask an employee if s/he is willing to submit to a polygraph.
  • Authorizes a DS agent or Department OIG investigator to alert an employee or contractor, currently subject to a criminal, personnel security, or counterintelligence investigation, that s/he has the option to undergo an exculpatory polygraph examination, rather than limiting exculpatory polygraphs to cases where it is initiated by the individual under investigation.
  • Allow polygraphs of Department employees detailed to federal agencies (in addition to the NSA, CIA, and DIA) when the relevant agency requires a polygraph to be detailed to the position. Polygraphs of employees detailed to agencies other than the NSA, CIA, or DIA will be considered on a case-by-case basis and will require approval from the Under Secretary for Management.
  • Limits the scope of polygraph examinations of Department detailees to other federal agencies to counterintelligence topics for all detailees.
  • Formalize existing processes for polygraph examination of certain locally employed staff, in accordance with the approvals specified in the polygraph policy

Back in May 2015, we questioned the use of the CIA’s polygraph exams of State Department employees (see AFSA Elections: What’s Missing This Campaign Season? Fire, Ice and Some Spirited Debates, Please).

Do you know that Department employees who take the CIA’s polygraph examination for detail assignments will have the  results of their polygraph provided to DS and HR for security  clearance and assignment purposes?  A source told us that “In and of itself, it does no  harm if the CIA retains them for its clearance purposes, but it can  have an unanticipated negative impact when indiscriminately released  by the CIA to third parties, like DS and HR, who use them in violation of the CIA’s restrictions to the Department  and assurances to the examinees.”  If this affects only a fraction of the Foreign Service, is that an excuse not to do anything about it, or at a minimum, provide an alert to employees contemplating these detail assignments?

We’ve recently discovered a newly posted grievance case dated March 2010. We don’t know why this is currently on display upfront on fsgb.gov.  In any case, this is related to the subject of polygraph examination.

On June 24, 2009, grievant, a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer, appealed to the FS Grievance Board the State Department’s (Department) denial of his grievance with respect to the use of the results of a polygraph exam he took in 2003 in conjunction with a detail to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Grievant claims the improper handling and use of the results of that exam violated the Department’s own regulations (12 FAM 250) and resulted in his having been denied a Presidential Appointment as a Chief of Mission (Ambassador).  The ROP includes some interesting interrogatories:

#1: Has the Department ever obtained a Department employee’s polygraph examination results from the CIA for a personnel security background investigation based on the employee’s SF-86 signed release? If so, please describe the circumstances under which this would occur.

The Department objected to answering this interrogatory on the grounds that is was overbroad, immaterial, and irrelevant.

IR #6e for Diplomatic Security Case Officer for the second background investigation: Have you ever requested an employee’s polygraph results from the CIA before? If so, under what circumstances‘?

The Department found this interrogatory overbroad, irrelevant, and immaterial.

Ruling on IR #6e: Under the more ample concept of relevance applied at the discovery stage, the Board finds that the information requested is sufficiently relevant to grievant’s claims or likely to lead to the discovery of information relevant to such claims to compel discovery. The information requested may help to clarify the Department’s practice in applying the regulations governing the use of polygraphs that are issue in this case. We do not find the request to impose such a burden on the Department as to outweigh the potential usefulness of the information requested. The Department is directed to respond.

IR # 7h for Diplomatic Security: Does DS routinely request and receive polygraph examination results on all Department employees who have taken polygraph examinations at the CIA as part of their routine background security investigations?

The Department objected to this interrogatory as irrelevant and immaterial in all respects.

The Department was directed to respond to grievant’s Interrogatories 6e and 7h not later than 20 days after receipt of the order but we have been unable to find the decision on this case.

 

On June 24, 2009, grievant filed a grievance appeal, claiming improper use by the Department (Department, agency) of the results of a polygraph examination he had taken in conjunction with a detail from the Department to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  The grievant makes several specific claims:

1) that the CIA provided the results of the polygraph to a Diplomatic Security (DS) agent in the Department, in violation of Department regulations and CIA policy;
2) that the Department requested and/or received the polygraph results from the CIA, in violation of its own regulations;
3) that the Department improperly used the polygraph results in the course of security update investigations; and
4) that the Department improperly provided information drawn from the polygraph to the Director General (DG), which resulted in the DG withdrawing grievant’s nomination to be a chief of mission. The FSGB Board finds that it has jurisdiction over the claims presented by the grievant.

 

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OPM’s Security Clearance Backlog Now At 500,000+ Govt-Wide

Posted: 4:14 am ET
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The State Department recently sent an agency-wide message from the Under Secretary for Management which provide timelines for job applicants and employees who are in the process of applying or renewing their security clearances. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security adjudicates security clearances and renewals for all State Department employees but we understand that contractors are mostly processed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  The message notes that OPM currently has a backlog of more than 500,000 clearances government-wide.

In terms of length of adjudication, apparently 60% of the Department’s initial Top Secret investigations are completed within six months while 66% of its initial Secret investigations are completed in four months. When compared government-wide, the Department adjudicates security clearances much faster than the government-wide average. So that’s good, except, of course, if you’re the one waiting for it, six months is a loooong time. We don’t know what is the average wait time for the remaining 40% awaiting their TS clearance or the 34% awaiting for their Secret clearance?

But the OPM backlog of more than 500,000 clearances government-wide? Not so good.  With a new administration transitioning in next year, waiting for a security clearance may just be like Beetlejuice waiting at the DMV without an appointment.

Via reactiongifs.com

Via reactiongifs.com

In related news, OPM is also in the news because the House Oversight and Reform Committee released its report yesterday on The OPM Data Breach: How the Government Jeopardized Our National Security for More than a Generation (read PDF or read below).  The report details the  exfiltration by two hacking teams of the security background data on 21.56 million individuals, the personnel files of 4.2 million former and current US government employees and the fingerprints for 5.6 million of them.

You will not be surprised to hear that OPM/OIG has warned since at least 2005 that the information maintained by OPM was vulnerable to hackers. US-CERT had also warned the department of a malware  operating on its servers in 2012, and again in 2014, CERT warned that a hacker had managed to get information out of the OPM servers. The report notes that the damage could have been mitigated if the security of the sensitive data in OPM’s critical IT systems had been prioritized and secured.

Read the report here:

 

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