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Is Foggy Bottom’s T-Rex as Stealthy and Cunning as His Theropod Namesake?

Posted: 1:42 pm  ET
Updated 5:18 pm ET

 

On February 16, we reported that State Department Counselor Kristie Kenney was let go by the new Trump Administration (see Secretary Tillerson Travels to Germany For G-20, Also @StateDept Counselor Steps Down).  On February 17, CBS News reported that “Much of seventh-floor staff, who work for the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources and the Counselor offices, were told today that their services were no longer needed.”

Since 2009, the State Department has been authorized a Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources (D/MR), the third highest ranking position at the agency.   Jack L. Lew stayed from January 28, 2009 – November 18, 2010, before moving on to better jobs. Thomas R. Nides was in from January 3, 2011 – February, 2013, then rejoined Morgan Stanley as vice chairman. After a stint at OMB, Heather Anne Higginbottom served the State Department from 2013-2017.  This is an eight year old position, and while it may be worrisome for some if this position is not filled, the State Department managed for a long time without this position, and it can do so again. We are more concerned on who will be appointed as Under Secretary for Management and that he/she has a depth in experience  not only in management but in the many challenges of overseas assignments.

Regarding the position of Counselor, according to history.state.gov, the Secretary of State created the position for the Department of State in 1909 as part of a general Department reorganization. In 1912, the position became a Presidential appointment (37 Stat. 372). Between 1913 and 1919, the Counselor served as the Department’s second-ranking officer, assuming the role previously exercised by the Assistant Secretary of State. In 1919, the newly-created position of Under Secretary of State subsumed the duties of the Counselor. An Act of Congress, May 18, 1937, re-established the position of Counselor of the Department of State (50 Stat. 169). Between 1961 and 1965, the Counselor also served as the Chairman of the Policy Planning Council. The Counselor, who currently under law holds rank equivalent to an Under Secretary of State (P.L. 98-164; 97 Stat. 1017), serves as an adviser to the Secretary of State. The Counselor’s specific responsibilities have varied over time.  The Counselor position is one of the top nine senior positions at the State Department, and the only one that does not require Senate confirmation.

Reports of “layoffs” and particularly “bloodbath” in the 7th Floor are a tad hyperbolic. If the Trump administration has decided not to fill the D/MR and C offices, we imagine that the top positions would remain vacant and the supporting jobs could be eliminated.  All political appointees were gone by January 20, so the remaining staffers who were reportedly laid off are career employees. We expect that Civil Service employees have to find other positions within the organization, while Foreign Service employees have to “bid” for other available positions domestically or overseas.

We’ll have to watch and see how many offices will now remain unfilled, and how many positions will be eliminated. The results may give us a rough look on what the State Department and the Foreign Service will look like in the years to come. With less positions available to fill, we may be looking at a possibility of hiring at less than attrition, with no new positions; something that old timers are familiar with.  We’ll have to revisit this topic at some future time, but for now, just filling in vacant positions within the State Department appears to be a clear challenge with no immediate end in sight.

Back in December, we wondered in this blog if Secretary Tillerson will be able to pick his own deputies (see Will Rex #Tillerson Gets to Pick His Deputies For the State Department? Now we know. On February 10, NYT reported that President Trump overruled Secretary Tillerson and rejected Elliott Abrams for deputy secretary of state.  Apparently, Abrams could not get past White House’s vetting not over his record of withholding information from Congress in the Iran-Contra Scandal but  over Abram’s past criticisms of then candidate Trump. On February 15, we also wrote about the dust-up between Secretary Tillerson and WH chief of staff Rience Priebus on ambassadorships (see Tillerson/Priebus Standoff on Ambassadorships, Plus Rumored Names/Posts (Updated). On February 16, Politico reported that the White House interviewed Fox’s Heather Nauert to be Secretary Tillerson’s spokesperson while he was out of the country.

A recent CNN report notes that after Tillerson took the helm at the State Department, “there has been little in the way of communication about Foggy Bottom’s priorities, schedules or policies.” A former State Department official told CNN, “It’s possible Tillerson is keeping his powder dry so he doesn’t make enemies prematurely.” Also below:

The official said Cabinet members can try to sway an undecided president by speaking publicly — a path Defense Secretary James Mattis has taken in stating his support for NATO and opposition to torture — or they can keep quiet to see which way the wind blows. They can also try to get the President’s ear and confidence by taking a lower profile.
But the official warned, “If you’re not clearly drawing your line on an issue, no one is going to respect it.”

If Secretary Tillerson does not even get a say on who will be his deputies, his spokesperson, or who will be appointed ambassadors (who by the way, report to the State Department and not the White House), folks will soon start wondering what kind of influence does he actually have? Should foreign governments bother with America’s diplomatic service or should they just tweet at the White House or at America’s tweeter-in-chief?  Of course, Secretary Tillerson has only been on the job less than a month. We’ll have to wait and see if Foggy Bottom’s T-Rex is as stealthy and cunning as his theropod namesake given that Trump’s chaotic White House is as fine tuned machine as CEO John Hammond’s Jurassic Park.

Note that Secretary Tillerson recently picked Margaret Peterlin as his chief of staff.  Peterlin had Hill and federal government experience.  She was previously National Security Advisor for the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, J. Dennis Hastert, and served as Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the Commerce Department’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) under Bush43.

The following is not an exhaustive list of all offices at the State Department. We did not come up with this list which appears on state.gov here under Alphabetical List of Bureaus and Offices, and includes positions that require/do not require Senate confirmation. With the exception of IRM, CIO, CoS, and  S/ES (do not require senate confirmations), all offices/names in blue, bold font have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate (regular blue font indicates appointment without Senate confirmation). R, PM and CT (red, bold font) have been designated acting officials prior to the change of administration. Regular red font are offices/names of officials serving in their acting capacity or delegated authority as one January 20.  The bottom part of the list is based on Alphabetical List of Bureaus and Offices from state.gov where we have only the organization directory to refer to, and are not sure if the office holders are current.

 

Secretary of State (S) Rex Tillerson
Chief of Staff (CoS)  Margaret J Peterlin
Deputy Secretary (D) Thomas A. Shannon, Jr. (Acting Deputy)
Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (DMR)  may not be filled (see)
Counselor of the Department (C)  may not be filled (see)

UNDER SECRETARY FOR:

Arms Control and International Security (T)
Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J)
Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment (E)
Management (M) John W. Hutchison (Acting 120 days)
Political Affairs (P) Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.
Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R) Bruce Wharton (Acting U/S)

 

GEOGRAPHIC BUREAUS:

African Affairs (AF)  Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield
European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) John A. Heffern (Acting Asst Secretary)
East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP) Assistant Secretary Daniel R. Russel
International Organization Affairs (IO) Tracey Ann Jacobson (Acting Asst Secretary)
Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) Stuart E. Jones (Acting Asst Secretary)
South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) William E. Todd (Acting Asst Secretary)
Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) Francisco Palmieri (Acting Asst Secretary)

FUNCTIONAL BUREAUS AND OFFICES:

Administration (A) Harry Mahar (Acting Asst Secretary)
Arms Control, Verification and Compliance (AVC) Anita E. Friedt (Acting Asst Secretary)
Chief Information Officer (CIO) Frontis B. Wiggins, III
Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) Tom Hushek (Acting Asst Secretary)
Consular Affairs (CA) David T. Donahue (Acting Asst Secretary)
Counterterrorism (CT) Justin Siberell (Acting Coordinator)
Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) Virginia L. Bennett (Acting Asst Secretary)
Department Spokesperson Mark Toner (Acting)
Diplomatic Security (DS) Bill A. Miller (Acting Asst Secretary)
Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources (DGHR) Arnold Chacon
Economic and Business Affairs (EB) Patricia Haslach (Acting Asst Secretary)
Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) Mark Taplin (Acting Asst Secretary)
Energy Resources (ENR) Mary B Warlick (Acting Coordinator)
Executive Secretariat (S/ES)  Ambassador Joseph E. Macmanus

Foreign Missions (OFM) Cliff Seagroves (Acting Director)
Human Resources (DGHR) Arnold Chacon
Information Resource Management (IRM) CIO Frontis B. Wiggins, III
Inspector General (OIG) Steve Linick
International Information Programs (IIP)  Jonathan Henick
International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) Eliot Kang (Acting Asst Secretary)
Legal Adviser (L) Richard Visek (Acting)
Legislative Affairs (H) Ambassador Joseph E. Macmanus (Acting Asst Secretary)
Mission to the United Nations (USUN) Ambassador Nikki Haley
Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs(OES) Judith G. Garber (Acting Asst Secretary)
Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) William H. Moser (Acting Director)

Political-Military Affairs (PM) Tina S. Kaidanow (Acting Asst Secretary)
Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) Simon Henshaw (Acting Asst Secretary)
Public Affairs (PA) Susan Stevenson (Acting Asst Secretary)
White House Liaison (M/WHL) Robert Wasinger

The following remaining offices are from the full state.gov list here and individuals encumbering these positions are listed in the current official phone directory. Note that this is not 100% reliable.  The directory dated 2/17/2017 still lists David McKean as S/P director. McKean was appointed US Ambassador to Luxembourg  in March 2016, he departed from that position on January 20, 2017 so this specific entry for S/P is twice outdated.

Allowances (A/OPR/ALS) Cheryl N. Johnson
Budget and Planning (BP) Douglas A. Pitkin
Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) Michael D Lumpkin
Chief Economist, of the Department –??
Civil Rights, Office of – John M. Robinson
Comptroller and Global Financial Services (CGFS) Christopher H. Flaggs
Diplomatic Reception Rooms (M/FA) Marcee F. Craighill
Foreign Assistance (F)
Foreign Service Institute (FSI) Director Nancy McEldowney
Global AIDS Coordinator (S/GAC)
Global Criminal Justice (GCJ)
Global Food Security (S/GFS)
Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI)
Global Youth Issues (GYI)
Intelligence and Research (INR) Assistant Secretary Daniel B. Smith
International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) Assistant Secretary William R. Brownfield
Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation (PRI) Director Paul A Wedderien
Medical Services (MED) Medical Director Charles H. Rosenfarb, M.D.
Office of Terrorism Finance and Economic Sanctions Policy –  Sandra Oudkirk?
Ombudsman, Office of – Shireen Dodson
Policy, Planning, and Resources for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (PPR) Roxanne J Cabral
Policy Planning Staff (S/P) David McKean ???
Protocol (S/CPR)  Rosemarie Pauli (Acting Chief)
Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) Kathryn Schalow
Science & Technology Adviser (STAS)
Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Ambassador Susan Coppedge

 

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@StateDept Gets Exemption From Trump Federal Hiring Freeze, March Classes Are On

Posted: 2:07 am  ET
Updated: 2:27 pm PT

 

The AP’s Matt Lee reports that the State Department was granted an exemption from the Trump administration’s hiring freeze on most federal employees. It will bring on 175 new diplomats: 70 entry-level diplomats, 80 mid-level specialists and 25 consular fellows, non-foreign service officers who assist visa processing at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.

The report says that the State Department has been granted an exemption from the Trump hiring freeze. The number only includes a fraction of the projected hires this year for the Foreign Service.  The State Department has projected 615 positions for FY16 which includes 97 new positions and 518 projected total attrition (employees lost to retirement, resignation, death). Total hiring for FY17 is projected at 599 with 98 new positions and 501 projected total attrition.

It looks like this exemption affects only the March classes scheduled to start on March 6 for FS officers,  and March 20 for FS specialists (see @StateDept Sends Out Job Offers to Prospective FSOs For March 6 Class But — Will There Be Jobs?).  Beyond these positions, it appears that the hiring freeze is on, including a halt in the hiring of eligible family members. 

There are classes scheduled for July and September but it appears no invitations have gone out for those classes.  The State Department’s careers.gov says, “We do not yet have information regarding hiring authority for future classes. This is not unusual.”  We anticipate that the OPM plan required after 90 days under the federal hiring freeze executive order will be available by then.

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Related posts:

 

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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With Zero Information From @StateDept, Foreign Service Candidates Remain in Limbo

Posted: 2:42 am  ET
Updated: 12:08 pm PT
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.

 

On January 23, we blogged about the State Department sending out job offers for an incoming class of foreign service officers and specialists (see @StateDept Sends Out Job Offers to Prospective FSOs For March 6 Class But — Will There Be Jobs?. On February 1, OPM and OMB issued a joint guidance on the Trump EO on the hiring freeze (see OMB/OPM Issues  Additional Guidance for Federal Civilian Hiring Freeze, Jan 31.2017 (Read).

As of February 9, 2017, the same information provided to applicants on February 2 remains the same:

greencheck

The “greencheck” at the state.gov forum also told the prospective employees:

We have not received updated guidance on how the hiring freeze will impact both the Generalist or Specialist March classes at this time. HR is exploring all options regarding the hiring registers and the March classes. Once a decision is finalized, all candidates affected by the freeze will be notified immediately.

We understand that “State still has provided the hundreds of effected candidates and their families with zero information on whether or not the class will take place or when. At this point, a number of candidates have lost their previous jobs and have had to move out of their homes.” Our correspondent, clearly frustrated, has some very strong words:

“The Department needs to start meeting the expectation of accountability that SECSTATE set on his first day on the job, and SECSTATE and senior leadership need to start enforcing those standards. This story of State’s inability/unwillingness to make decision, adjust to fluid circumstances, and communicate to what it purports to be its most valuable resource–it’s people–needs to be told …The careers forum on the state.gov site have plenty of anaecdotal examples of state’s lack of communication and the human impact this is having on people.”

So, we went and look at the forum once more.

One asked, “I haven’t seen anything definitive yet. It’s sure getting late here. Should I let the movers come box up my stuff?”

Another wrote, “I was scheduled for the March FSS class that is pending. I have already given my notice to my command to leave active duty effective Feb 17th. If this hiring freeze affects new DSS SA candidates then I am out of a job.”

Still another, “If I were sitting on the register right now, life would be great … I could extend my orders for another year and defer, but I already have orders to detach from active duty in 2 weeks thinking I was going to finally get my dream job.”

One wrote, “To think that State would just ignore us is completely negligible on their part, especially spending thousands of dollars on clearances….that would be a complete waste of tax payers dollars!  I am military so I know the routine of hurry up and wait, however it easy when one is getting paid to wait while a descion is made vs no income because you quit your job based on an offer from State … those of us who are “in limbo” any news is better than no news.”

Somebody “annoyed” wrote, “Take your time guys. Seriously don’t rush this decision. It’s not like you’ve had weeks let alone months to sort this out. And it’s not like the class is supposed to start in about three weeks. So really, take your time. All the uncertainty and waiting has been really great. Not stressful at all. A few of us are going to be unemployed, and several without housing in a few days, but hey, it’s cool, we can deal with it. It’ll be like camping. In fact, why don’t you make the decision on March 5, so we can really draw this out and enjoy this experience for as long as possible. “

Forum user using “Current FSO” as handle posted: “Whoever is in charge of making this decision owed the March class an answer weeks ago. That person is derelict in his/her duty to provide correct information. People have to uproot entire lives to go to A-100. Disgraceful.”

Here is a post that should be required reading for the State Department leadership:

If State needs more time to ‘explore options’ at least make the decision to delay the classes and let those who received appointment letters know. The Generalist class should have travel authorizations by now. Hundreds of candidates and their family members made the decision to accept appointment offers based on State’s identification of a 6 March start date. It is time for State to show similar decisiveness and commitment. 

Presidential transition, turnover in Management, etc doesn’t absolve State leadership of this responsibility. If the organization takes this long to make a decision on routine hiring, I shudder to think how it handles something like a medical evacuation or ordered departure. 

Of note, this response is not intended to lambast the ‘green check’ who is pasting State’s pro forma response to these queries. I understand they are only passing the limited information they’ve been told to release. This broader forum is oriented to those interested in seeking employment with the Department of State. A quick review of the threads the last two months paints an unimpressive picture of State’s handling of hiring actions, its ability to make decisions in fluid environments, and its interest in communicating substantive information with those effected by State’s indecision.

This could have been avoided had the State Department thought to include a contingency language in the job offer letters it sent out, it did not.

We learned that the State Department in FY2015 hired 290 foreign service officers, and 259 foreign service specialists. The number  of hires reportedly were “at or near” attrition. There is no publicly released number available for FY2016 (email us) but folks are talking about “hundreds” who received invitations to start training next month.

Update: Regarding the “hundreds” above, we understand that the largest Generalist (FSO) classes have never exceeded 100 as the room only fits about 85. The Specialist (FSS) classes are reportedly almost always much smaller. March classes are also typically the smallest of the year.  A State/HR document we’ve seen projected 615 positions for FY16 which includes 97 new positions and 518 projected total attrition (employees lost to retirement, resignation, death). Total hiring for FY17 is projected at 599 with 98 new positions and 501 projected total attrition. 

According to Federal News Radio, the Defense Department already announced “a sweeping set of exceptions to the governmentwide civilian hiring freeze President Donald Trump imposed on Jan. 23, allowing hiring to resume across broad categories of the workforce ranging from cybersecurity specialists to depot maintenance and shipyard personnel.”   The OMB/OPM guidance appears to carve out an exception for positions necessary to “meet national security (including foreign relations) responsibilities” but so far, the State Department has not made any announcement.

In 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported on the challenges that the State Department faced in filling its increasing overseas staffing needs with sufficiently experienced personnel. It also noted that “persistent Foreign Service staffing and experience gaps put diplomatic readiness at risk.”

In the 1990’s, the Foreign Service suffered through a period of hiring below attrition levels. According to Government Executive, from 1994 to 1997, the State Department hired “only enough people to replace half the number it lost to retirement, resignation or death.” That contributed to the staffing and experience gaps in our diplomatic service.  It typically takes about 4 to 5 years for an officer to move through the entry-level grades to a midlevel grade.  To address these gaps, the State Department implemented the “Diplomatic Readiness Initiative,” during Colin Powell’s tenure which resulted in hiring over 1,000 new employees above attrition from 2002 to 2004. However, most of this increase was absorbed by the demand for personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2009, the State Department started Diplomacy 3.0,  under Hillary Clinton’s tenure, another hiring effort to increase its Foreign Service workforce by 25 percent by 2013. Due to emerging budgetary constraints, State anticipated this goal would not be met until 2023 (see Foreign Service Staffing Gaps, and Oh, Diplomacy 3.0 Hiring Initiative to Conclude in FY2023).

How soon before the State Department will be back in the same pickle?

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Related item:

Presidential Memorandum entitled “Hiring Freeze” January 23, 2017

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Inbox: Another example of top-notch FSI communications strategy?

Posted: 12:57 am  ET

 

We received the following in our inbox on Friday, February 4, 2017:

“Rumor is spreading like wildfire that on Friday afternoon at an administrative staff meeting FSI language school management announced that all language immersion trips planned for this spring would be cancelled. No one has yet bothered to tell the students or teachers who have already purchased non-refundable airline tickets for trips that have been planned and approved by language division supervisors since last year. The cancellations seems to be based on lack of FSI funds to pay per diem to accompanying teachers, but it is not clear whether students will still be permitted to travel on self-directed immersion trips. Some students are frantically trying to get flights and hotels refunded under travel insurance policies, but this is not likely to be a covered circumstance.

Another example of top-notch FSI communications strategy. No one has bothered to tell the affected parties, but half the administrative staff at FSI heard about it.”

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Dissent Channel: Draft Memo Over #MuslimBan Leaks – Now What?

Posted: 1:19 pm  PT

 

On January 27, President Trump issued Executive Order that suspends the entry of refugees to the United States for 120 days and deny entry/issuance of visas to citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries [Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen] for 90 days. (see Trump EO: Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, 1.27.2017).

On January 30, somebody leaked to Lawfare a draft Dissent Channel memo written by State Department employees officially dissenting from the Trump executive order. We’ve previously written about dissent in the Foreign Service in this blog:

The State Department has 75,231 employees worldwide, including 50,104 locally hired employees, 11,147 Civil Service employees, and 13,980 Foreign Service employees. The signatories of this dissent memo, as reported, ranges from 900 to about 1,000 employees.

One leaked that memo.

This was a bad move.

The policy that allows the existence of the Dissent Channel is long in history and tradition in the State Department. But it has only been in existence for 46 years.

On January 31, the Democratic Members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs reminded the Trump Administration that State Department personnel who dissent from policy are protected by law and sought assurances that State Department personnel would not be subject to harassment or retribution for offering dissenting viewpoints. They cited the Foreign Service Act of 1980.  The Foreign Affairs (2 FAM 070) which governs the Dissent Channel says that the Channel is “derived from the authority to manage the Department of State and the Foreign Service per 22 U.S.C. 2656, 22 U.S.C 2651a.”  

The last time the Dissent Channel was in the news was when a group of FSOs submitted a dissent cable in the waning days of the Obama Administration over its Syria policy. That also quickly leaked. At that time, a retired ambassador had some strong words concerning the leak expressing concerns that it “jeopardized an important institution.”  Another retired career ambassador at that time, also said that “the channel can only work if it is “internal use only,”  i.e., it does not become part of the political diatribe.” Read more here: Dissent Channel Leak: Who Gains the Most From Flogging the Laundry Like This?

We are interested in hearing about policy battles inside the bureaucracy but we also recognize that the intent of the Dissent Channel is to inform the administration of the day and that these policy disagreements are not for public consumption.  We don’t like it but we understand why it has to be that way.  The Channel affords the Administration through the Director of Policy Planning (S/P) two working days to acknowledge the message, and 30-60 working days to provide a substantive response.   One might argue that perhaps the current administration, which appears to be a bull in a China shop would not be interested in providing a substantive response. Perhaps, but there’s no way to tell now.

The memo was leaked before it was submitted to the Dissent Channel. This will probably cause the greatest crisis of confidence between the new President and the Foreign Service since 1971 (see Dissent Channel Leak: Who Gains the Most From Flogging the Laundry Like This?).  We hope it doesn’t, but the possibility is there.

We applaud the courage of the employees to dissent from this policy that is not only un-American but also detrimental to the interests of our country.  That said, this leak was a bad move. The signatories expected the dissent memo to go to the Dissent Channel. One signer told us he/she was “pissed” that the memo was made public. He/She was not the only one. The leak also demonstrates, perhaps, an unstated belief that the Dissent Channel does not work, otherwise, why leaked it before it even got to the proper channel? By not affording the Administration a time to response, and by leaking the dissent memo before it was even submitted to the Dissent Channel, the dissent itself, and the institution became immediately embroiled in –you guess it — “political diatribe.”  

Employees who signed the dissent memo did not sign off on this leak. They know what is required of them when they signed up for these jobs.  Some are now concerned of potential repercussions.  Policy Planning, the office with responsibility over the Dissent Channel was most recently encumbered by Jon Finer, who also served as Secretary Kerry’s chief of staff. Previously, the office head was longtime Kerry aide, David McKean. We can’t remember the last time S/P was encumbered by a career Foreign Service officer. We anticipate that the new administration will staff the office with its own political appointee. That political appointee will have access to all records at S/P.

Given the potential for vindictiveness, and the statements coming out of the White House Press Secretary, one has to be concerned on how this will end. We are looking at Secretary Tillerson to assure State Department employees that he supports this honorable tradition of dissent free from retaliation.  The new secretary of state will most certainly also need an assurance that his employees will always give him their best counsel, without making every policy fight a public one.  We do not doubt that there will be many more policy fights ahead.  So we hope people do not panic, but get ready for the next one.

We want to note that Lawfare’s Benjamin Wittes tweeted his offer to help FSOs who suffer from retaliation over this memo:  “I want to stress that ANY FSO who faces retaliation for this memo should contact or me.” He also writes, “We will get you a first rate lawyer. And that’s a promise.

The head of a nonpartisan independent watchdog has also told us that she wants to help. Let us know, if needed, and we’ll connect you.

OMB/OPM Issues Additional Guidance For Federal Civilian Hiring Freeze, Jan 31.2017 (Read)

Posted: 2:43 am ET

 

On January 31, Mark Sandy, Acting OMB Director, and Kathleen McGettigan, Acting OPM Director issued a joint memo which provides  additional guidance regarding the freeze on the hiring of Federal civilian employees. The hiring freeze  was directed by the President on January 23, 2017, via Presidential Memorandum entitled “Hiring Freeze.”

Item #3 lists the exemptions permitted under the Federal civilian hiring freeze. Take note of the following:

c.  Nomination and appointment of officials to positions requiring Presidential appointment, with or without Senate confirmation.

d.  Appointment of officials to non-career positions in the Senior Executive Service (SES) or to Schedule C appointments in the Excepted Service, or the appointment of any other officials who serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority (i.e., “appointed” positions of a political/non-career nature).

h.  Appointments made under the Pathways Internship and Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Programs (this does not include the Recent Graduates Program).  Agencies should ensure that such hires understand the provisional nature of these appointments and that conversion is not guaranteed.

and

r.  The head of any agency may exempt any positions that it deems necessary to:

i.  Meet national security (including foreign relations) responsibilities, or

ii.  Meet public safety responsibilities (including essential activities to the extent that they protect life and property).  Agencies may refer to longstanding guidance, which provides examples of such activities in OMB Memorandum, Agency Operations in the Absence of Appropriations, dated 11/17/1981 [see examples 3(a) to 3(k)].

Note that the memo ends with the following:  The guidance in this memorandum is effective immediately.  Within 90 days of the publication of the PM issued on January 23, 2017, the Director of OMB, in consultation with the Director of OPM, shall recommend a long-term plan to reduce the size of the Federal Government’s workforce through attrition.  The hiring freeze will expire upon implementation of the OMB plan.

The original memo is here or read in full below (click on lower right hand corner arrow to maximize reading space).

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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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OMB Issues Initial Guidance For Federal Civilian Hiring Freeze (Read Memo)

Posted: 2:34 pm PT
Updated: 3:52 pm PT
Updated: 5:09 pm PT  (correction memo from OMB not OPM)

 

The following guidance memo from OPM OMB via Federal News Radio includes some guidance following President Trump’s memorandum on the federal hiring freeze (see President Trump Freezes Federal Hiring Regardless of Funding Sources (Read Memo).  Of relevance to Foreign Service candidates expected to start classes in March, the OMB memo says that “an individual who has received a job offer/appointment prior to January 22, 2017, and who has received documentation from the agency that specifies a confirmed start date on or before January 22, 2017 February 22, 2017 should report to work on that start date.”

We’ve checked with the State Department about the hiring freeze, as well as impact on EFM and WAE jobs. We will update this if we get an official response.  The official response from the State Department refers us back to the White House. 

 

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@StateDept Sends Out Job Offers to Prospective FSOs For March 6 Class But — Will There Be Jobs?

Posted: 3:47 am ET
Updated: 1:03 am ET
Updated: 7:12 pm ET

 

The most popular topic in the State Department’s career forum right now is Mgt non-authorization of appointment letter?  Candidates for appointment into the Foreign Service are roiled at the possibility that the next classes for new officers and specialists will be postponed or cancelled after they have already prepared to move to DC.  One commenter writes, “We signed attendance letters and received confirmation that we are in the March class. We signed paperwork with Oakwood for housing.”  Another adds,  “Have resigned from my job and given my apartment notice of our leaving. I also turned down another job offer in December.” Still another candidate writes, “[A]m about to go from a good, full-time job to being unemployed because of this lack of transparency and foresight. For my family’s sake, I’m trying not to show how terrified I am that we will potentially be without income and a roof over our heads.”  And yet another says, “I am not sure how future language and caveats helps those who will soon be unemployed and homeless.”

Last week, we asked the State Department about this issue, requesting some clarity on what is going on regarding the offers that went out, the classes scheduled to start, and whether or not cancellation of classes is a possibility/offers rescinded given the change in administration.

We received a four-word response from State/HR:  “We have no comment.”

We tried DGHR Arnold Chacon on Twitter, but it appears he was deaf to our question on this matter.

As best we could tell, in late November-early December, the State Department sent out appointment offers to Foreign Service applicants who have jumped through the hoops to join the incoming 190th A-100 Generalist Class, due to begin March 6. We understand that similar offers went out for the next Specialist Class due to start in March 20.

For the Generalist/FSO class, the job offer recipients were asked to notify the Registrar’s Office of their response to the job offer, via email, no later than noon, Friday, Dec. 2nd.  They were also asked to provide documentation of their annual base salarysubmission of 90 days’ worth of earnings and leave/salary statements, or a signed letter from your Human Resources Division, on the company’s letterhead, verifying the candidate’s current (base) salary.  Candidates who are current federal employees were asked to provide their most recent personnel action (SF-50), in lieu of 90 days’ worth of earnings and leave statements.   Candidates transferring from a federal agency, were asked to provide the Registrar’s Office with the name, email address and telephone number of their Human Resources Officer, so that their “transfer and a release date can be coordinated without a break in service.”

Recipients of the offers were informed that they need to provide via fax or email an updated resume with eight specific details including address, telephone number, email address, eligible family members and confirmation that this is the address from which you are traveling to attend Generalist training; please include your confirmed address, telephone number and current email address on your resume” to the Registrar’s Office. 
The candidates were reminded that if they are appointed from 50 miles outside of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, they are eligible to receive per diem to assist in offsetting living expenses incurred while attending training. They were given the per diem rates from March-September 2017. The letter informed the candidates that during the first week of orientation, they will have an opportunity to apply for a Government Travel Card via Citibank. Also that candidates must submit a travel voucher every 30 calendar days to receive reimbursement for their lodging and meals and incidental expenses (M&IE).   They were informed that lodging receipts are required.  The candidates were further reminded not to purchase their own tickets as they will be issued travel authorizations approximately 30 days prior to the class date.
 

They were provided information about lodging and information on specific needs such as lactation services:

The Department entered into a contract with housing vendors to provide apartments at various locations in the Washington, D.C. area for eligible employees receiving a travel authorization to attend Generalist training at FSI. Participating employees will not be responsible for paying for housing costs which can result in savings of many thousands of dollars over the course of the training period. Participants will still receive the meals and incidental expense portion of the per diem allowance on the sliding scale listed above. We strongly encourage all new employees to take advantage of this program not only because of the cost savings, but because of the convenience of making reservations, free transportation to and from FSI, and to avoid the many legal and contractual pitfalls encountered when finding your own housing. 

 If you are a candidate that will require lactation services during the orientation period, please advise as soon as possible so that arrangements can be made.

They were directed what to do/where to go on their first day of processing: 

Please note that the first day of Generalist In-Processing will be held in the Harry S. Truman (Main State), 2201 C Street, N.W, Washington, D.C. (Loy Henderson Auditorium, 23rd Street entrance only) and the remainder of the Generalist Orientation, will be held at the George Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center, 4000 Arlington Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia, Room F-2328.   (Please enter via the 23rd Street entrance only.   Please do not enter via the Department’s 22nd  and C Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., Main Entrance. )

They were informed that the priority of the Registrar’s Office is the processing of the January 9th Generalist Class.   And that their “patience and understanding are greatly appreciated.”

The appointment offer we reviewed includes links and contact info. It does not include a contingency language about not making “lifestyle changes.”  If you receive one of these letters, you probably would also start making arrangements to terminate current employment, leases, etc, in preparation for a new start as an entry level U.S. diplomat in Washington, D.C.

The original forum thread was posted in January 13. After the forum section lit up and multiple inquiries from candidates, HR/REE apparently sent out an email on January 17, as follows:

Dear Candidate:

The Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment (HR/REE) would like to provide further information concerning your appointment to both the March 6th Generalist and March 20th Specialist hiring classes.

At this time, pending guidance from the incoming administration, the Registrar’s Office is not releasing any official appointment documentation related to the March 2017 hiring classes. This would include the official appointment salary letter and the Enter On-Duty employment forms. Once the Registrar’s Office has received further guidance from Management concerning your appointment, you will be informed immediately.

We recommend that you make no lifestyle changes contingent on employment with the Department until you receive further guidance from us.”

Look, the job offer letters went out after the elections. Unless folks were under a rock, State/HR knew that there will be a new GOP Administration who may have different priorities. In fact, in October 22, 2016, President Trump’s Contract With the American Voters lists “a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health)” as part of his plan.  Perhaps the folks who sent out the job offers made presumptions they shouldn’t have, or perhaps there were transition issues?  The thing is we don’t know because HR and DGHR are both non-responsive to inquiries. It is worth noting, however, that the scheduled  189th Class proceeded as planned on January 17.  If there were doubts, even slim ones about the next training classes, the State Department could have included a contingency language in the job offer letters it sent out; it did not.  Wait, we’ll take that back. Even in the absence of doubts, given that a presidential transition was anticipated after the election, it is malpractice not to include contingency language in these job offers.

We understand that the agency has no control over the priorities or the interest of the incoming administration. However, it has control over how it communicates with its prospective personnel. The State Department demands that its future diplomats demonstrate high qualities of leadership, decisiveness, and communication skills among other things.  And yet, it poorly communicates with its incoming career candidates and refuses to account for its action when politely asked for clarity.

CBS News reported on January 20 that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus sent a memo to federal agencies instructing the bureaucracy to cease issuing new regulations and to enact a federal hiring freeze. We were able to locate the regulatory freeze memo but not the memo on the hiring freeze. Government Executive has now reported about the hiring freeze here. Below is the text of the order freezing federal hiring.  Or see the more readable version here: President Trump Freezes Federal Hiring Regardless of Funding Sources (Read Memo).

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