Report: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Lacks Authority to Fire a Political Appointee #DeptofSwagger

 

Foreign Policy recently reported on a State Department town hall meeting where Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan “acknowledged having failed to act more vigorously to shield State Department staffers from retaliation by the Trump administration for their perceived political views” and reportedly said that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lacked the authority to fire a top Trump political appointee accused of inflicting, or abetting, the alleged harassment. (See State Department Failed to Shield Its Diplomats From Political Reprisals, Officials Concede; also Workplace Horror Award Goes to the IO Bureau, @StateDept Offers Counseling in Uppercase Voice).
Most notable items from the report:
— Deputy Secretary Sullivan and P’s David Hale “acknowledged shortcomings in their response and pledged to make amends for staffers whose careers were upended in a long-running controversy that triggered an investigation by the department’s inspector general.”
— “I will be the first to admit the failure on my part to have done more to address the situation,” Sullivan told the gathering, according to an account of the meeting relayed to Foreign Policy
— Hale encouraged staffers whose careers were damaged as a result of political retaliation to come to him to seek some sort of professional remedy or, if they preferred, to pursue a formal grievance against the department. “I’d like to help; I’d also like people to know they can come to me,” Hale said. He pledged to take their case to the undersecretary of state for management, the director general, or human resources “to make amends.”
— “There’s absolutely no doubt that what was going on was completely unacceptable,” Hale said. “Misconduct is a soft word, frankly, to use for what has occurred.” 
–[M]any of the questions revolved around the fate of Moley and why action had not been taken sooner to discipline him. And some noted that officials in other bureaus of the State Department have been subject to similar mistreatment. […] And other staffers privately expressed skepticism that the State Department’s leadership would hold Moley accountable, noting that Foggy Bottom’s top brass had known about the allegations of political targeting for well over a year and had failed to act swiftly to stop it.
— The “general vibe after the meeting was a mix of bitter disappointment and depression,” one State Department official told Foreign Policy, who was skeptical about assurances that Moley would be reprimanded. “Bottom line here is that there will be NO action taken on Kevin Moley.”
— “The decision to ignore the IG report is devastating,” said another staffer in the bureau. “Ultimately, it renders this kind of vicious political targeting acceptable.”
Perhaps the most shocking thing reportedly said by Deputy Secretary Sullivan:
“The secretary can’t fire an assistant secretary appointed by a president, so it adds a layer of complexity there,” Sullivan said.
*
Well, first, this individual is not the only non-career official appointed by the president.  According to AFSA, the State Department has 74 political ambassadors (or 45.4% ) appointed by Trump, and confirmed by the Senate. In addition, there are 55 senior officials in Foggy Bottom where 50 of them (or 90.9%) are also political appointees; almost all of them were presidentially appointed and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
So, we’d like to understand what Sullivan told State Department employees actually means. If Secretary Pompeo cannot fire an assistant secretary appointed by a president, does this mean, he cannot fire any of the politically appointed senior officials and political ambassadors working for him? Those are his highest ranking officials. They are appointed by the president but they do not report to the president or the White House but to the secretary of state.  How can the secretary manage his agency without authority to, as the FAM likes to put it, “promote the efficiency of the Service?”
Good gracious! Who, pray tell, can the Secretary of State fire?
Second, when Sullivan says “The secretary can’t fire an assistant secretary appointed by a president” does this mean Pompeo is not allowed to do so, or was told not to do it (base on what law or regulations exactly?). Or is it that the secretary is using his discretion as agency head not to fire this one individual?
As often the case these days, we’re quite perplexed about this reported excuse. The deputy secretary appears to be making a rather sweeping statement here, not just with this secretary, and not just with this assistant secretary or this president: “The secretary can’t fire an assistant secretary appointed by a president.”
Remember Elizabeth Tamposi?  She was Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs  from 1989 – 1992 during the George H. W. Bush Administration.  She was a political appointee. Her tenure is noted for the scandal related to the search of passport records of then presidential candidates Bill Clinton and Ross Perot  (see Throwback Thursday: An Election, an FOIA, and @StateDept in the Eye of the Storm). She was dismissed by acting Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger.
An acting Secretary of State fired an assistant secretary of state appointed by a president, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Remember Secretary Colin Powell and Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Mary Ryan? She was a widely respected career employee, and the “only U.S. government official to be fired as a consequence of the worst attack ever on U.S. soil” (see Remembering Mary Ryan, FSJ, June 2010)? The secretary of state fired a Senate-confirmed appointee of President George W. Bush. There was apparently another assistant secretary fired by Secretary Powell but we could not find a publicly available citation, so we’re leaving that out.
During the fallout from the Benghazi attack, the assistant secretary, principal deputy, and deputy assistant secretary all lost their jobs in Diplomatic Security. In the NEA bureau, one deputy assistant secretary lost his job; his firing reportedly ordered by the State Department counselor. This report says that then Secretary Clinton accepted the resignation of the DS assistant secretary. Whether “S” or “M” made the decision concerning the departure of the DS assistant secretary is not clear, but somebody in Foggy Bottom had the authority to do it.
In recent years, there were also very public departures by political ambassadors to Luxembourg, Kenya, and Malta; all were presidentially nominated and Senate confirmed.
Now, we have the Deputy Secretary of State telling employees that their agency head lacks this authority; an authority which has clearly been exercised by previous secretaries of state several times in the past, in very public ways. So this is mighty confusing for your poor blogger who can’t make sense of the goings on there.
We do want to know where does Sullivan’s “The secretary can’t fire an assistant secretary appointed by a president” excuse come from. We think this has implications not just for this secretary and the agency going forward but potentially for future secretaries of state. 

Related items:

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MidEast Envoy Jason D. Greenblatt Resigns, Kushner Aide to Take Expanded Role in ‘Deal of the Century’

 

 

The president announced via tweet the departure of Jason D. Greenblatt, his former real estate lawyer and Special Representative for International Negotiations since December 2016. Together with Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, Greenblatt is credited as co-author of the Trump Middle East peace plan. According to Reuters, Greenblatt is one of only four senior officials with access to Trump’s plan for Middle East peace, alongside Jared Kushner, Ambassador David Friedman and Kushner aide Avi Berkowitz.
Politico reports that with Greenblatt’s departure, Kushner aide, Avi Berkowitz, a 30-year old, 2016 Harvard graduate  will take on an expanded role in the talks (as will as the State Department’s special representative to Iran, Brian Hook). Berkowitz previously worked for Kushner Companies and  later as Assistant Director of Data Analytics in early 2016 for the Trump campaign. This is really going very well don’t you think?

U.S. Special Rep for Iran Makes Stunning Million Dollar Offer to #AdrianDarya Captain

 

 

Foreign Service Institute Rolls Out Pompeo’s Pursuit – A ‘One Team’ Four-Day Pilot Course For “Everyone”

Last week, Secretary Pompeo announced to agency employees that the Foreign Service Institute has launched its very first “One Team” pilot course.  Apparently, this new course is a four-day pilot  and “builds upon the ideas” expressed in the recently rolled out Professional Ethos. The purpose is  “to unite new employees around the “One Team, One Mission, One Future” vision and the unique history of the Department.”
The “One Team” course will reportedly supplement existing training to provide a common experience for new employees. According to Secretary Pompeo, “For the first time, Foreign Service, Civil Service, Limited Non-Career Appointments, and political appointees will all learn side-by-side. Everyone will grow as one team together”.

In developing the One Team course, we drew heavily from your thoughts on what new Department employees should know and understand about the Department, especially the importance of working together. As a result, the course will:

    • Explore the guiding principles of the Department, including our Professional Ethos;
    • Help employees connect their efforts and that of their colleagues to the Department’s mission;
    • Analyze how the Department’s work connects to the National Security Strategy, and the Department’s other strategic planning mechanisms;
    • Examine the meaning of the Oath of Office;
    • Investigate how the Department’s work directly benefits the American public; and
    • Inform our team about key accomplishments and personnel in the Department’s history that spans more than 230 years.
Supposedly, this course is “light on lectures” but full of “hands-on” engagement with the goal of “helping participants see how they each contribute” to the collective success as an organization.
There are reportedly 85 employees currently enrolled in the pilot course at FSI.  They are expected to provide feedback so the course can be “refined” for “several more trial runs this fall and in early 2020.”
Secretary Pompeo also told State Department employees that the goal is “to finalize the course and begin ramping it up next year to accommodate the roughly 1,600-1,800 new employees that the Department onboards every year.” He also said that “This critical investment will ensure that each one of our future colleagues is best prepared to join our efforts as champions of American diplomacy.”
We can’t tell right now how expensive is this project. Presumably, not as expensive as Rex Tillerson’s redesign project but one never know.  If you’re taking the course, we’re looking forward to hearing your assessment of the course, as well as assessment of the identified learning goals. Is this effective indoctrination, or a waste of dime and time? Are students in a bubble wrap or are they allowed to question the misalignment of stated values and actual practice we can see with our very stable faculties every day? Are trainers able to reconcile the gap between the stated professional ethos and reality? Is the State Department making this course mandatory for the leadership  at the Bureau of International Organizations, for starters or as refreshers?
There is also one glaring omission in the target audience for this course – the largest employee group in the State Department: not Foreign Service, not Civil Service, not Limited Non-Career Appointments, and not political appointees but it’s local employees, spanning over 275 posts, and totaling more than all other employee groups combined.  They do not appear to be included in this training “to unite new employees around the “One Team, One Mission, One Future” vision and the unique history of the Department.” These folks, almost all foreign nationals, often touted as the backbone of the State Department’s overseas presence, do not need to be champions of American diplomacy, do they?
Nothing shouts “One Team” louder than excluding local employees from this supposedly common, and unifying experience for new employees. This “One Team” training is in person right now, we can’t imagine State expending dollars to bring in LE employees from overseas to Washington, D.C. Although, one can make the case that if this is as important as they say it is, then doesn’t it make sense that all employees in the organization are trained and imbued with its specific point of view, and guiding principles? Are they considering an online course? web-based courses?
In any case, when the secretary says that this will help “everyone to grow as one team together”, everyone doesn’t really mean everyone, just all direct-hire American employees. But don’t fret, the $10,000 “One Team” Award is available for uh … Everyone. Even contractors. Oops, uh wait, what’s that?

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Pompeo: “you will treat every human being with the dignity and respect …” (except when senior leaders don’t)

 

 

…”[I]t’s an imperative that senior leaders set the culture right on that. That we make sure that every team member, whether they’re a Foreign Service Office, or a Civil Servant, or part of our locally-employed teams in the field, understands that you will treat every human being with the dignity and respect they deserve by the nature of their humanness. And so I’ve said that from the moment I walked in the building on C Street the first day, and I say it in every gathering that I have. We have to do that. The team has to do that. The leadership must lead on that issue, but everyone who comes through here must understand it is one team, one mission.
And the second thing we’ve tried to do is set a professional standard of excellence that isn’t unique to any one group. It’s not unique to Western Hem. It’s not unique to our cyber folks.  It’s not unique to Foreign Service Officers. We did this with something that we’ve called the Ethos that we’ve put forward, which says these are the characteristics of people who will be part of America’s diplomatic corps, the team that is out delivering on behalf of the United States of America. So if you work with USAID, or you work in another part of our organization, this is the standard to which you should aspire. It has both the personal character standard and an organizational set of understandings, and we hope that that will become something that’s foundational and part of the DNA of everyone who works here at the State Department.”

Secretary Mike Pompeo
State Magazine, July 2019

Note: We should note here that USAID (created with the passage of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (pdf) by Congress) is not/not part of the Department of State.  Despite a recent effort to merge USAID into the State Department, it remains an independent agency with its own Senate-confirmed administrator, Mark Green.

BONUS:

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Pompeo: Heat-Seeking Missile Comment Offensive, Also Great to Lead Org of “70,000-Plus Great Americans”

Secretary Pompeo was in New York for a UN gig and had a couple of interviews with transcripts now posted on state.gov.  Asked about the New Yorker profile with a former ambassador’s quip heard around the world, the secretary told CBS’s Gayle King, “I find that language offensive and I find the statement ludicrous.
Also Secretary Pompeo basically touting 70,000-plus great Americans working for him (he doesn’t).
In the interview, Pompeo actually said, “It’s a great opportunity to get to lead this organization of 70,000-plus great Americans who are out there all across the world …”
He might like to think that for his “One Team, One Mission” motto but that’s not accurate.
Can somebody please tell the Secretary that he does not/does not have 70,000 plus Americans working for him? He obviously doesn’t know that 50,839 of those “70,000-plus great Americans” are Locally Employed Staff (also known as LES) who are Foreign Service Nationals (FSN) and Personal Service Agreements (PSA) working hard in over 270 posts overseas in support U.S. interests (see HR PDF). It is by far, the largest largest employee group within the State Department which, as FSN Eddy Olislaeger points out as recently as 2018, has “no organization to represent them, to safeguard their interests, and to promote excellence and professionalism among their ranks.”

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo delivers remarks on “One Team, One Mission: Introducing our Ethos” to State Department employees at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on April 26, 2019. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain]

Excerpt below via state.gov:

QUESTION:  You were the cover story in The New Yorker, 21 pages devoted to you, called, “Secretary of Trump.”  And it’s interesting because it takes the evolution of you, Mike Pompeo, who grew up in Orange County, who – I was surprised to see you like AC/DC.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  My younger days.

QUESTION:  I did not see that coming.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I still like them today.

QUESTION:  They call you – you’ve been called an old-fashioned American.  Your dogs, golden retrievers, are named after generals.  General —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Sherman and Patton are the last two.

QUESTION:  Sherman and Patton.  But the point I’m making is that people that know you and love you and support you say, “Look, this is a guy who loves his country.”  And I think people are surprised to see the evolution of where you were in the beginning in 2016 when you supported Marco Rubio – and at one point said it’s time to turn the lights down on the circus to the Donald Trump campaign – to now being very closely aligned with Donald Trump.  Somebody said, “He actually gets Donald Trump.”  What is it that you get about Donald Trump that others don’t?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  He cares deeply about America.  And in the world that I’ve worked – I worked for him first as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, now as the Secretary of State.  He wants to see the American people secure, he wants to grow our economy, he wants better lives for them.  I see that.  I’ve had lots of chances to engage with him.

QUESTION:  But you see it now though.  In the beginning you said authoritarian, trying to turn the – time to turn the lights out in the circus.  I’m curious because they say about you, you are very patriotic, you get this country.  The President is not always accused of telling the truth.  He’s very loose with his tweets.  It seems to be opposite of how you run your life.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of working for President Trump.  No, the comments from back in 2016 – it was a tough political campaign, and when I’m on your team, I am all in, as I was.  And when my candidate left, I was all in for President Trump then as well, and I’m in for America today.

QUESTION:  You have a lot of support, Mr. Secretary.  They say that State Department morale is better under your watch.  People feel good about what they do, but you’ve got critics.  One former American ambassador who shall not be named – this is delicate – describes you like a heat-seeking missile for Trump’s bottom, except he used the other word.  When you hear stuff like that to compare how you are with this President, what do you think?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I find that language offensive and I find the statement ludicrous.  I work hard.  I work hard for the President of the United States, who was constitutionally elected.  He is my leader.  My task is to share with him the best information.  If we disagree, my duty is to go share with him our disagreements.  I do that with great frequency.  But when he makes a decision and it’s legal, it is my task to go execute that with all the energy and power that I have.

QUESTION:  If he wins a second term, will you continue to be Secretary of State?  You know there are calls for you to run for Senate in Kansas.  Don’t expect you to say, “Yes, I’m going to run here, Gayle.”  But if he does, if he wins again, do you want to be Secretary of State?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I would love to serve for him just as long as I can.  It’s a great opportunity to get to lead this organization of 70,000-plus great Americans who are out there all across the world taking real risk for themselves and their families and delivering good, solid American diplomacy everywhere they are.

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Workplace Horror Award Goes to the IO Bureau, @StateDept Offers Counseling in Uppercase Voice

 

Where do you even start with this bonkers IO report from the State Department Inspector General? Congrats?
Well, then, felicitations and congratulations to the Bureau of International Organization Affairs and its leadership for getting the Workplace Horror Award!
Given the lack of meaningful action from the 7th Floor following this report, perhaps we should borrow Secretary Pompeo’s “Miles With Mike” signoff and send “Keep crushing it!” wishes to everyone, too.
Bear it, and swagger, there’s an Ethos Award at the end of the rainbow.
But really, Secretary Pompeo should stop talking about his professional ethos initiative because, to put it mildly, this report ruins it loudly, particularly the parts about showing “unstinting respect in word and deed for my colleagues and all who serve alongside me” and taking “ownership of and responsibility” of something, something stuff.
As Nero Wolfe would say, “Pfui!”

Short Take: BAD, ALL CAPS

Update at 10:08 am: Added the DOS swagger seal

 State/OIG began this review in July 2018 by examining whether the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO) officials had acted improperly toward career officials on the basis of their perceived political or ideological views.
Just reading the report makes us want to drown our sorrows in vats of grapes, wine, rum, etc.,  Don’t worry, we’re allergic to alcohol but if we could, we would. This is painful to read, but can you imagine the people living through this?
Has anyone heard from AFSA?
Read the full report here.  A few excerpts below:

“OIG found evidence of leadership and management deficiencies and mistreatment of career employees in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO). These inappropriate practices included disrespectful and hostile treatment of employees, accusations against and harassment of career employees premised on claims that they were “disloyal” based on their perceived political views, and retaliation associated with conflicts of interest. OIG also found that numerous employees raised concerns about the IO leadership to Department management officials outside of IO and that Department officials counseled IO leadership; however, the Assistant Secretary for IO, Kevin Moley, did not take significant action to respond to such concerns.

During the course of this review, OIG received allegations that two personnel actions were undertaken by IO leadership for improper motives: the removal of the IO Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS), a career senior foreign service officer, and the cancellation of the selection process for a career position in the IO Office of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. OIG found evidence that both actions by IO leadership were likely based on non-merit factors and thus violated Department policy.”

Staff Departures Set a Record in Our Books

Approximately 50 of 300 domestic IO employees have departed IO! Darnit, that’s quite a record that will be in our books for quite a while. Well, actually, maybe in our books until we see the next IG report focused on the Secretary’s office. That could be record-breaking, too, in terms of how many people departed the State Department starting at the dawn of Tillerson’s tenure. Alas, we’d also like to know who did what to whom, to the Senate-confirmed DGHR and others, who thought it was a great idea to double the stress and double the fun at the Ops Center, and other stuff… we can wait.

“In 2018, IO had 239 civil service positions and 71 domestic Foreign Service positions. Assistant Secretary Moley began his tenure in IO in April 2018. The IO Bureau also has four Deputy Assistant Secretary positions, one of which is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS). In April 2018, all Deputy Assistant Secretary positions were held by career employees. During Assistant Secretary Moley’s tenure, three individuals have served as PDAS: the first, whose reassignment is described on page 14 below, served until June 2018; the second served from August to October 2018; and the third has served since November 2018.
[…]
Approximately 50 of 300 domestic IO employees have departed IO since Assistant Secretary Moley took over its leadership, and nearly all of the former employees who OIG interviewed stated that poor leadership of the bureau contributed to their decision to depart.”

 

When the OIG Rings the Fire Alarm and …

Image via Giphy

The OIG report paints in great details the leadership deficiencies and mistreatment of career employees; the disrespectful and hostile treatment of employees; the unmerited accusations of disloyalty and harassment based on perceived political views; retaliation based upon conflicts of interest; and failure of bureau leadership to respond to concerns expressed by employees, and expressed by Department management.

“OIG found significant evidence of systemic deficiencies in leadership and management relating to the treatment of career employees, as well as evidence that non-merit-based considerations played a role in at least two personnel decisions. Several employees raised concerns relating to disrespectful and hostile treatment of staff, inappropriate accusations of disloyalty and harassment of employees based on perceived political views, and retaliation based on conflicts of interest. Furthermore, despite being counseled by Department management regarding some of these issues, IO leadership has not adequately addressed these concerns. Such conduct conflicts with the Department’s leadership principles, which set expectations that its management will strive for a collaborative, respectful, and inclusive workplace. Moreover, these failures of leadership have led to serious morale problems in IO and to the departure of a significant number of career staff. OIG encourages the Department to take action to address these concerns promptly.”

On the two personnel actions undertaken by Assistant Secretary Moley and Ms. Stull, the OIG report notes the following:

“The circumstances of Assistant Secretary Moley’s removal of the PDAS suggests that he undertook a personnel action based on non-merit factors, namely, her articulation of concerns about Ms. Stull’s conduct. In addition, her removal raises questions regarding compliance with the Department’s non-retaliation policy because the concerns that she brought to Assistant Secretary Moley, Under Secretary Shannon, and Deputy Secretary Sullivan could evidence the violation of a law, rule, or regulation.
[…]
Ms. Stull’s instruction to the human resources officials that future vacancies reflect the President’s agenda and beliefs was inappropriate for career positions and reflects an intent to introduce non-merit factors into the IO hiring process. Based on this evidence, Assistant Secretary Moley and Ms. Stull appear to have violated Department prohibitions on using non-merit factors in personnel assignments.

The State Department Passes the Buck ..er Alarm

The OIG made two recommendations to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs: to develop a corrective action plan to address the leadership and management deficiencies within the Bureau of International Organization Affairs and to consider other appropriate action, including disciplinary action. The Department concurred with both recommendations.
Now for the funny part (but don’t laugh).
The State Department told the OIG that “The Department noted that two IO officials are named in the report, but one of them is no longer employed by the Department and therefore not subject to any disciplinary action. The remaining official has already been counseled regarding his leadership, and the Department will consider additional discipline based on OIG’s “assessment” of the response from Assistant Secretary Moley.”
Oh, dahrlings, the State Department wants the IG to do the Department’s job! Looks like the decision on what to do with IO is beyond OIG, or “P” or “M” or “D” but sits on Secretary Pompeo’s desk.
Also how soon before we’re going to start seeing this case  as a comparator in grievance cases? “I only screamed once and I apologized, and two people curtailed from post during my tenure. The proposal to suspend me for three days is not fair given similar cases at the agency. For example, the IG report on IO …” or something like that…

Yes, Your Concerns Are Pointless: True as the Sky is Blue

(and the State Department Offers More Counseling)

Below excerpted from the OIG report:
  • [I]n his interview with OIG, Assistant Secretary Moley was dismissive of the counseling he received from senior Department leaders. He cited other senior government positions he held in the past and expressed his opinion that individuals such as Acting Director General Todd were in no position to give him advice.
  • On June 25, 2018, Deputy Secretary John Sullivan met with Assistant Secretary Moley to discuss the comments and the general atmosphere in IO. According to Deputy Secretary Sullivan, Assistant Secretary Moley responded that IO employees were misinterpreting his and Ms. Stull’s actions and were over-reacting. Also, on June 25, Deputy Secretary Sullivan and then-Legal Adviser Jennifer Newstead counseled Ms. Stull on her treatment of employees.
  • Despite these counseling efforts, multiple witnesses told OIG that the hostile treatment and other conduct described above continued into the fall of 2018, and some of the notable examples described above occurred after Assistant Secretary Moley’s June 2018 meeting with the Deputy Secretary.
  • Several employees told OIG that they approached the Assistant Secretary at various times with concerns about treatment of employees and management of the bureau. These employees consistently reported to OIG that Assistant Secretary Moley reacted negatively when employees brought concerns to him and that, rather than addressing the issue directly, he tended to minimize the concern or place blame on others.
  • Similarly, when individuals raised concerns with Ms. Stull about her treatment of employees, she asserted that she was herself the victim of harassment and informed at least one employee that raising such concerns was pointless because the Trump administration “has my back.”
  • Beginning in late April 2018, a succession of increasingly more senior Department officials shared concerns they had received regarding the leadership and management of IO directly with Assistant Secretary Moley. However, OIG found that Assistant Secretary Moley did not undertake any meaningful efforts to address these concerns. Furthermore, in the course of this review, OIG continued to receive accounts of the same type of conduct against which the Assistant Secretary had been counseled, such as hostile treatment of employees, allegations of disloyalty, and conflicts of interest.
  • Then-Under Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon met with Assistant Secretary Moley to discuss concerns about management of the bureau that Under Secretary Shannon had heard from several IO employees. Under Secretary Shannon told OIG that he reminded Assistant Secretary Moley that his first responsibility is to the Secretary and that he put himself at risk by not exercising leadership and granting Ms. Stull an “unprecedented level of independence” to manage the bureau, especially during the critical period before UNGA. Under Secretary Shannon advised against managing the bureau by intimidating staff and questioning their loyalties.
  • On June 13, 2018, Acting Under Secretary Mull contacted Assistant Secretary Moley and recounted these concerns, including an email exchange that the Assistant Secretary had with a junior desk officer,30 the reported imminent departure of several members of IO’s senior staff, and general reports that he was “targeting” career civil service and Foreign Service officers. Acting Under Secretary Mull advised Assistant Secretary Moley that such reports were “embarrassing” to the Secretary and ran counter to his priority of lifting morale and forging a better sense of teamwork. Acting Under Secretary Mull directed him to take several steps [snip].

Quick Test: Compare and Contrast

Via Imgur

We should note that former S/P Kiron Skinner who was reportedly fired for her “abusive” management style did not oversee close to 300 people but a couple dozens (see @StateDept Policy Planning’s Kiron Skinner Reportedly Out Over “Abusive” Management Style).  Not to minimized the issues at S/P where some staffers reportedly left and five more threatened to quit according to Politico, that’s still less than the approximately 50 departures  cited by OIG from the IO bureau.  Good grief!
Yes, we are pointing out that the State Department is inviting criticism of contrasting treatment between these two offices: one managed by an African-American woman who was reportedly fired amidst allegations of bad management (but no IG investigation), and another managed by a white American male who was given repeated counseling amidst allegations of bad management and mass staff departures (despite an IG investigation). Any “unusually candid” official out there willing to explain this, we’re all ears.

 

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@StateDept Bureau Junks Professional Ethos Big Time (Who Wanna Tell Mike?)

 

 

I am a champion of American diplomacy.

My colleagues and I proudly serve the United States
and the American people at the Department of State,
America’s first executive department.

We support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

We protect the American people and promote their interests and
values around the world by leading our nation’s foreign policy.

As a member of this team, I serve with unfailing professionalism
in both my demeanor and my actions, even in the face of adversity.

I act with uncompromising personal and professional integrity.

I take ownership of and responsibility for my actions and decisions.

And I show unstinting respect in word and deed for my colleagues
and all who serve alongside me.

Together, we are the United States Department of State.

 

 

GAO to @StateDept: Psst! Leadership Attention and Focus, Please!

 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its report  on Tillerson’s redesign projects (although those projects were no longer called that).  GAO looked into the status of the reform efforts that the State Department reported to Congress in February 2018 and also looked at the extent to which State addressed key practices critical to the successful implementation of agency reform efforts.
GAO has determined that “State leadership has not provided the focus necessary to support the officials responsible for implementing all these reform projects.”
Uh-oh! Some excerpts below.

Remember the Listening Tour?

In response to the March 2017 Executive Order 13781 and the ensuing OMB memo, State launched a “listening tour” intended to gather ideas and feedback from State and USAID employees. As a key component of this outreach effort, State hired a contractor to design and administer a confidential online survey, which was sent to all State and USAID employees in May 2017. According to the contractor’s report, the survey had a 43 percent response rate, with 27,837 State employees and 6,142 USAID employees responding to the survey. The contractor also conducted in-person interviews with a randomly selected cross section of personnel, which included 175 employees from State and 94 from USAID.

17 Reform Projects Plus

The planning teams developed specific reform projects, listed below in table 2 (17 reform projects, see page7-8 of report), which State described in the fiscal year 2019 budget justification it submitted to Congress in February 2018.9  According to implementing officials, all these projects predated the Executive Order and OMB memo issued in the spring of 2017. They also noted, however, that the administration’s reform-related directives helped advance State’s preexisting efforts by focusing management attention and agency resources on these projects.  (9 In addition to these reform projects, State’s Congressional Budget Justification also reported seven changes related to its reform efforts that are complete or underway. State reported that it is (1) expanding employment opportunities for eligible family members; (2) implementing cloud-based email and collaboration; (3) increasing flexibilities for employees on medical evacuations; (4) streamlining the security clearance process; (5) simplifying the permanent change-of-station travel process; (6) improving temporary duty travel options and experience; and (7) integrating USAID and State global address lists.

Status: Completed-1, Continuing-13, Stalled-2, Discontinued-1

As of April 2019, according to State officials and status reports, State had completed one of its 17 reform projects; 13 projects were continuing; two projects were stalled pending future decisions or actions; and one project was discontinued.
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According to State officials, as of April 2019, although 13 of the reform projects described in the fiscal year 2019 Congressional Budget Justification were considered by State to be continuing, some had been scaled back, slowed down, or both as a result of senior leadership’s shifting priorities and attention.

Leadership Focus and Attention

In February 2018, State reported to  Congress in its fiscal year 2019 budget justification that it was pursuing the reform projects we described above. In March 2018, the first transition affecting the implementation of those projects occurred when the President removed the then Secretary of State and nominated the then CIA director to replace him; in April 2018, the Senate confirmed the current Secretary. According to senior State officials, when the new Secretary took office, his top priority was ending the hiring freeze and restarting a concerted recruitment effort because vacancies in key positions and a general staffing shortfall would otherwise have led to what one senior official described as a “cataclysmic failure” at State. These senior officials noted that the new Secretary decided some of the existing reform projects were not well designed and that he wanted greater emphasis on cybersecurity and data analytics. They said he also wanted to pursue other initiatives, including a new proposal to create a Global Public Affairs Bureau by merging two existing bureaus. The senior officials told us that the Secretary authorized responsible bureaus and offices to determine whether to continue, revise, or terminate existing reform efforts or launch new initiatives. However, State did not formally communicate other changes in its reform priorities to Congress, such as its plan to no longer combine State and USAID’s real property offices.
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State initiated another transition in leadership of the reform efforts in April 2018 when it disbanded the dedicated planning teams overseeing the reform efforts and delegated responsibility for implementing the reform projects to relevant bureaus and offices. As the planning teams finished working on their particular reform efforts and prepared to transfer these projects to the bureaus, some planning teams provided memos and reports on the status of their efforts and offered recommendations for the bureaus to consider when determining next steps in implementing the projects. Some implementing officials, however, reported that they received little or no direction regarding their projects or any other indication of continued interest in their project from department or bureau leadership aside from the initial notification that the project had been assigned to them.
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Various State officials noted that the prolonged absence of Senate confirmed leadership in key positions posed additional challenges. We have previously testified that it is more difficult to obtain buy-in on longterm plans and efforts that are underway when an agency has leaders in acting positions because federal employees are historically skeptical of whether the latest efforts to make improvements are going to be sustained over a period of time

Leadership Transition Effects:

Taken together, the leadership transitions at State had two significant effects on State’s reform efforts. First, the transition of departmental leadership and lack of direction and communication about subsequent changes in leadership’s priorities contributed to uncertainty among implementing officials about the future of individual reform projects. Second, according to implementing officials, the transition of project responsibility from dedicated teams to bureau-level implementing officials resulted in fewer resources and a lack of senior leadership involvement and attention for some projects. Absent leadership decisions, implementing officials will continue to struggle with understanding leadership priorities with regard to State’s reform efforts. Similarly, for any projects that are determined to be leadership priorities, day-to-day implementation activities will continue to be hampered by the lack of a dedicated team to guide and manage the agency’s overall reform effort.

Don’t Forget USAID: Continuing Projects? Where? What?
GAO has not made any recommendations to USAID and yet, the agency has submitted a written response to highlight the State Department’s unwillingness to coordinate with them. What’s this about? (see Appendix III-Comments from the U.S. Agency for International Development – PDF/page25-26):

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