Former Obama-Biden Advisor Elizabeth M. Allen Sworn-In as Asst Secretary of State for Global Public Affairs

Elizabeth M. Allen is sworn in as Assistant Secretary of State for Global Public Affairs, at the U.S. Department of State, on September 13, 2021. [State Department Photo by Freddie Everett/ Public Domain]

Elizabeth M. Allen is sworn in as Assistant Secretary of State for Global Public Affairs, at the U.S. Department of State, on September 13, 2021. [State Department Photo by Freddie Everett/ Public Domain]

Elizabeth M. Allen, Appointee for Assistant Secretary of State for Global Public Affairs, Department of State

Liz Allen is a partner at strategic communications and public affairs firm Finsbury Glover Hering (FGH), where she specializes in message and campaign strategy, crisis management, and leadership communications. Prior to FGH, Allen served in the Obama-Biden Administration for eight years, most recently as White House Deputy Communications Director and Deputy Assistant to President Barack Obama. She also served as White House Director of Message Planning and Deputy Director of Communications to then-Vice President Joe Biden. In 2020, Allen took a leave of absence from FGH to serve as Vice President Kamala Harris’s Communications Director on the Biden-Harris presidential campaign. Allen previously served at the U.S. Department of State as Director of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, focusing on U.S. public diplomacy efforts, and in positions in the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement and Office of Global Women’s Issues. A native of Buffalo, New York, she graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in Political Science from the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Geneseo, where she returned to give the commencement address in 2016.
As we have written previously, this position does not require Senate confirmation. Here’s a quick summary of the position according to history.state.gov:
The Department of State created the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Public and Cultural Relations during a general reorganization in Dec 1944, after Congress authorized an increase in the number of Assistant Secretaries in the Department from four to six (Dec 8, 1944; P.L. 78-472; 58 Stat. 798). The reorganization was the first to designate substantive designations for specific Assistant Secretary positions. The Department changed the title to Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs in 1946. Initially, incumbents supervised the forerunners of the U.S. Information Agency and the Voice of America. P.L. 112-116, the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011 (signed into law August 10, 2012), removed the requirement for Senate confirmation of Assistant Secretaries of State for Public Affairs.
So now we’re wondering if folks have given any thought about filling in the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs post or is that a case of nah?

 

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EEOC: @StateDept Liable For Compensatory Damages “because it has not shown it acted in good faith”

 

Via EEOC: Jona R. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120182063 (Jan. 23, 2020).
Denial of Reasonable Accommodation Found.
Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that she was discriminated against on the basis of disability when she was not provided with a reasonable accommodation of situational telework as her medical circumstances required.  Complainant had been teleworking for several years, but her telework agreement expired.  According to the record, Agency managers repeatedly asked Complainant to resubmit her request or provide additional information over a period of several months.  Approximately six months after Complainant requested accommodation, the Agency informed Complainant that she could telework on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and would have a one-hour window to report her duty station to her supervisor on those days.  The Commission found that the Agency discriminated against Complainant when it did not approve her request for situational telework.  The Agency acknowledged that Complainant was a qualified individual with a disability.  Complainant demonstrated that she needed to be able to telework when she experienced symptoms related to her condition, and these symptoms occurred without notice and were not limited to the three days specified.  Therefore, the Agency’s offer, which was essentially the same telework schedule Complainant had before she requested reasonable accommodation, was not an effective accommodation.
The Commission found that the Agency failed to prove it would have been an undue hardship to allow Complainant to telework when her medical conditions warranted.  The Agency was ordered, among other things, to provide Complainant with the ability to situationally telework, restore any lost leave or pay, and investigate her claim for compensatory damages.

More details:

At the time of events giving rise to this complaint, Complainant worked as a GS12 Administrative Assistant within the Agency’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Secretary’s Protective Detail, in Washington, D.C. In this position, Complainant primarily provides operational planning and coordination for the Secretary’s Protective Detail and administrative, logistical, procurement, and financial support for the Detail. On September 13, 2013, a new manager became Complainant’s direct supervisor (S1) .

Complainant has been diagnosed with Type I Diabetes, Neuropathy, Anxiety, Depression, and Autonomic Neuropathy. Because of these conditions, Complainant sometimes experiences dizziness, fainting, low blood pressure, abnormal perspiration, a lack of bladder/bowel control, vomiting, nausea, and pain in her hands and feet.
[…]
Complainant has teleworked since 2009 and last signed a telework agreement on June 28, 2012 that expired on June 29, 2013. The June 2012 to June 2013 agreement allowed Complainant to telework on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
[…]

Consequently, the Agency issued a final decision pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.110(b). In its final decision, the Agency found that Complainant was a qualified individual with a disability. Nevertheless, the Agency concluded that Complainant did not prove she was denied a reasonable  accommodation for her disability. Specifically, the Agency determined that Complainant did not submit any documentation to support her October 29, 2013 request for situational telework. Regarding Complainant’s January 2, 2014 request for fulltime telework, the Agency determined  that it provided Complainant with an effective reasonable accommodation by offering her the ability to telework three times per week.

The Agency concluded that Complainant’s medical documentation did not support her request for fulltime telework, and she would have been best accommodated through a combination of telework and sick leave. Additionally, the Agency concluded that fulltime telework would have imposed an undue hardship on the Agency because: her position required training and periodic meetings in the office; trip planners were not able to follow all information given via telephone calls; Complainant’s workload had increased by 135 percent; and Complainant had demonstrated an  inability to follow proper procedures for reporting her duty station and work status while teleworking.
[…]
The Agency concluded that it provided Complainant with an effective reasonable accommodation when it offered her telework three times per week. However, as Complainant points out, the Agency only offered to allow Complainant to telework on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays,  which is essentially the same telework schedule Complainant had before she requested reasonable accommodation. However, Complainant disclosed she needed to telework when she experienced symptoms related to her condition that impacted her ability to commute and work in the office. These symptoms often occurred without significant notice and were not restricted to Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Therefore, if Complainant experienced symptoms that impacted her ability to commute or work in the office on Tuesdays or Thursdays, the telework agreement would not have provided her with a reasonable accommodation for her medical conditions. The Agency’s offer of telework on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays was not an effective accommodation because it did not meet Complainant’s need for flexible, situational telework as needed.
[…]
Hence, we find that the Agency failed to provide Complainant with a reasonable accommodation for her disability when it did not approve her for situational telework. See Jody L. v. Dep’t of the Air Force, EEOC Appeal No. 0120151351 (Jan. 17, 2018) (agency violated the Rehabilitation Act when it denied Complainant with Paralysis the option of working from home on days when the temperature is below negative twenty degrees.). In so finding, we remind the Agency that the federal government is charged with the goal of being a “model employer” of individuals with disabilities, which may require it to consider innovation, fresh approaches, and technology as effective methods of providing reasonable accommodations. Rowlette v. Social Security Administration, EEOC Appeal No. 01A10816 (Aug. 1, 2003); 29 C.F.R. §1614.203(a). We believe that providing Complainant with this reasonable accommodation furthers this goal.

An agency is not liable for compensatory damages under the Rehabilitation Act where it has consulted with complainant and engaged in good faith efforts to provide a reasonable accommodation but has fallen short of what is legally required. See Teshima v. U.S. Postal Serv., EEOC Appeal No. 01961997 (May 5, 1998). In this case, the Agency was aware that Complainant needed situational telework because of her medical conditions, and the Agency did not show providing Complainant with telework as needed would have imposed an undue hardship. Moreover, Complainant made the Agency aware that its offer of telework on an inflexible, rigid basis did not meet her medical needs. Consequently, we find that the Agency is liable for Complainant’s compensatory damages because it has not shown it acted in good faith in accommodating Complainant.

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Around the World in Tweets: Special Envoys

 

Special Envoy to Haiti Daniel Foote Resigns in Protest, @StateDept & Friends Mount Concerted Attack

 

Back in July when the State Department announced the appointment of Ambassador Foote as Special Envoy to Haiti, it said, “Special Envoy Foote brings extensive diplomatic experience to this role – including as Deputy Chief of Mission in Haiti and as the U.S. Ambassador to Zambia. The Department congratulates Special Envoy Foote as he takes on his new role and thanks him for his continued service to his country.”
Today, as his resignation in protest over Haiti policy became public, the State Department as well as the Biden White House are mounting a concerted effort to smack him down.  The spoxes in Foggy Bottom and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue both had something to say; it was not to thank him for his brief service as special envoy.
State Department spox Ned Price in his statement said …”not all ideas are good ideas.” The WH spox Jen Psaki said that Ambassador  Foote’s views were put forward, and they were were valued, they were heard …”. Also that “Special Envoy Foote had ample opportunity to raise concerns about migration … He never once did so.”
The State Department’s number #2 official, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman took time out from her busy schedule to give an exclusive interview to @McClatchy about this resignation – “You know, one of the ideas that Mr. Foote had was to send the U.S. military back to Haiti,” Sherman said. “It just was a bad idea.” she said. Then she said what the State Dept spox already said in his statement: “Some of those proposals were harmful to our commitment to the promotion of democracy….”. For him to say the proposals were ignored were, I’m sad to say, simply false,” Sherman said. She did say, you know, that she’s sad to say that.
Also Secretary Blinken being Tony and nice just said “I really understand the passion that comes with this.”
So then according to one reporter, an unnamed senior Biden Administration official also claimed that Ambassador Foote has a “toxic personality” & that Foote would often “shout people down and cut people off.” Toxic and shouty, and cut people off, blah, blah, blah!  And this is all coming out now after he resigned in protest? When are they going to tell us he also kicks his dog?
See, here’s the thing. They’re not just saying his ideas were valued and heard but oh, they were also just bad. But hey, did you know he wanted to send troops back to Haiti? Isn’t that also bad? And in case that doesn’t work, some official told a reporter, that the guy who quit has a toxic personality and was shouty, anyway.
This appears to be the first protest resignation under the Biden Administration. And you can see the all hands effort here. It is likely that 1) they recognized that the Foote letter would  resonate with a lot of people, 2) they’re looking at the domestic component and potential political fallout and 3) this serves as a warning for future dissenters on policy. Had Ambassador Foote just resigned quietly to spend more time with his family, State may have given him their “One Team” Award.
The Miami Herald says Ambassador Foote did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. Which makes the parade of named and unnamed characters talking about Foote’s resignation just stark by comparison.
Folks, he quit; he’s done. Why are y’all wasting time on the guy who already left the room?
Meanwhile, your Haiti policy is till a hot mess. Get to work, good grief!
Related posts:

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Senate Confirms Amb. Daniel Kritenbrink as Asst Secretary For East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP)

 

 

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HAVANA Act of 2021 Passes Congress, Heads to President Biden’s Desk

 

We blogged about the Havana Act in August 2021 (see Helping American Victims Afflicted by Neurological Attacks Act of 2021 Awaits Passage in the House, You Can Help). On September 21, the House unanimously passed legislation in a 427-0 vote to compensate USG employees who experienced traumatic brain injuries while serving in Cuba, China and other locations, also known as the Havana Syndrome. The U.S. Senate passed the HAVANA Act in June. The bill now heads to the White House for President Biden’s signature.

What’s up at OPM — why the immediate changes to login access to Employee Express?

 

The message reportedly went out from the Bureau of the Comptroller and Global Financial Services (CGFS) Global Compensation Communications Team on Wednesday, September 22, 2021, 08:50:00 AM PDT.The subject line says: “Immediate Changes to Login Access to Employee Express.”
Last Friday, September 17, 2021, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) informed the Bureau of the Comptroller and Global Financial Services (CGFS) that the Employee Express (EEX) and Annuitant Employee Express (AEEX) user accounts will no longer be accessible by logging in with a username and password.
OPM is the agency that manages both the EEX and AEEX systems and suspended non-Personal Identification Card (PIV) and Common Access Card (CAC) access to EEX and AEEX as of 7:00 PM EST Friday, September 17.
OPM suspended it on Friday, and folks were notified the following Wednesday?
— Users will only be able to access their accounts using their agency-issued PIV Smartcard. This modification impacts both employee and annuitant customers.
— Customers who do not currently have a PIV Smartcard and need immediate assistance to access or modify payroll or benefits information that would typically be performed by EEX, should contact the following offices:
— For assistance with modifying Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) information, contact Employee and Annuitant Services (EAS) at HRSC@state.gov or 1-866-300-7419.
— For PIV issues, please contact your bureau Information Technology department.
— For all other inquiries, please contact Payroll Customer Support by emailing Payhelp@state.gov.
OPM apparently has notified the State Department that they are working on an alternative solution for individuals who do not have a PIV Smartcard and plan to have this in place by November 1, 2021.
Oh, goody! That’s some five weeks away.
Now we want to know why the immediate urgency on these changes? Worth a question. Given it’s not too long ago when this happened — OPM Hack Compromises Federal Employee Records, Not Just PII But Security Clearance Info.

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Blinken’s #HavanaSyndrome Meeting, Also Spratlen is Out as Task Force Advisor

 

On September 3, we blogged about the Havana Syndrome again: Blinken Talks the Talk on Unexplained Health Incidents, Where’s the Walk? #HavanaSyndrome.
On September 21, NBC News reported that Secretary Blinken finally did meet with diplomats who were afflicted with the  Havana Syndrome mystery illness. It did not go very well, did it?
Via NBC News:

“It’s just incredibly sad. It’s the worst part of bureaucracy,” one of the diplomats said, describing the call as “identical to so many other phone calls” where they’re told about protocols in place to ensure proper treatment. “It’s so maddening because those protocols aren’t in place — not the way they think they are.”
[…]
A senior State Department official, responding to questions about Blinken’s call with the diplomats, acknowledged that there’s “frustration” among the group about a perceived stigma or lack of empathy by their colleagues, but said it did not extend to those at the top.

“That’s certainly not the case with the secretary and the senior leadership,” the official said in an interview. “Everyone is taking it seriously as a real issue that is affecting people who are experiencing real symptoms.”

Which members of the senior leadership is the SDO official talking about?

Diplomats told NBC News they were dismayed that Ambassador Pamela Spratlen, tapped by the Biden administration to oversee the State Department’s response, declined to conclusively rule out the mass hysteria theory.
[…]
One diplomat on the call described that response as “invalidating and inconsiderate.” Another said that Spratlen was “very clearly saying that she has not ruled out that we’re crazy.”  “In the end, we were interrupting Spratlen to try to get people in” to speak, a third diplomat on the call said. “It was ugly.”

Folks, if they’re talking about protocols in place that aren’t in place almost seven months after Blinken took office, then one can’t help but agree that Secretary Blinken is treating this “as an afterthought” as per former Senior CIA official Marc Polymeropoulos.
Another reason why we agree? Ambassador Spratlen who was appointed as Senior Advisor to the Havana Syndrome Task Force back in March is reportedly leaving after six months on the job. “The State Department says she’d reached her threshold of allowed labor hours under her status as a retiree.
Well, dammit! So Foggy Bottom did not know that she’s going to max out on her allowed labor hours? Excuse me, did they think this job is going to be done after 950 hours on the job? (Also see Havana Syndrome Questions @StateDept Refuses to Answer). Note that State Department’s re-employed annuitant employees can work no more than 1,040 hours during their appointment year.
McClatchy says that Blinken “considers choosing her [Spratlen’s] replacement an important decision, a senior State Department official said.
“The secretary has been seized with this issue even before he became secretary,” the official said. “One of the meetings he proactively requested before the transition was on this issue.”
Oh holymoly guacamole, give it a rest PR people! This is an old, old tired trick, even an old dog would not pick up this stick!
Frankly, this is  getting to be so exhausting! Look. The fact of the matter is it doesn’t matter if Secretary Blinken requested “proactively” a meeting on the Havana Syndrome issue BEFORE the transition.
In fact, the next State Department official to bring up Blinken’s request for a Havana Syndrome briefing before the transition should be promptly fired for persistently living in the past.
What matters is — what Blinken is doing about this issue NOW.

Brett M. Holmgren Assumes Charge as Asst Secretary For Intelligence and Research (State/INR)

 

Former @StateDept Employee Pleads Guilty To Honest Services Fraud Scheme

 

This is a follow-up to the June 2, 2021 post we did — SDNY Charges @StateDept Contractor in Multimillion-Dollar Fraud Schemes, Then There’s “Insider-1” at OBO.

On September 20, 2021, the Justice Department announced that May Salehi, a former State Department employee, pled guilty today to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.  See U.S. v. May Salehi.
Below is the USDOJ announcement: Former State Department Employee Pleads Guilty To Honest Services Fraud Scheme

May Salehi Provided Confidential Bidding Information to a Bidder and Received Lucrative Kickback Payments in Return

Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Michael Speckhardt, the Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of State, Office of Inspector General (“State Department OIG”), and Thomas Fattorusso, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, New York Field Office (“IRS-CI”), announced that MAY SALEHI, a former State Department employee, pled guilty today to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.  SALEHI was a longtime State Department employee who was involved in evaluating bids for critical overseas government construction projects such as U.S. embassies and consulates.  SALEHI gave confidential inside bidding information to a bidder, and received $60,000 in kickback payments in return.  SALEHI surrendered today and pled guilty before United States Magistrate Judge James L. Cott.  SALEHI’s case is assigned to United States District Judge P. Kevin Castel.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “As a State Department employee, May Salehi was entrusted to serve the public.  Instead, she abused her position of trust to line her own pockets, as she admitted today.  Salehi revealed, and traded on, confidential information – corrupting the bidding process and receiving lucrative kickbacks in return.  Together with our law enforcement partners, this Office is committed to rooting out corruption.”

State Department OIG Special Agent in Charge Michael Speckhardt said: “The State Department OIG is dedicated to preserving the integrity of the Department’s programs and processes.  As government employees, we are entrusted to carry out our responsibilities with integrity and support an equitable process.  May Salehi did just the opposite.  She used her position of public trust to selfishly obtain a personal financial advantage by selling proprietary contracting information for profit.  Today’s plea, the culmination of extensive investigative and prosecutorial efforts, demonstrates that those who violate the public’s trust will be held accountable for their actions.”

IRS-CI Acting Special Agent in Charge Thomas Fattorusso said: “May Salehi violated the trust of the American taxpayer by putting her personal financial gain over her responsibilities to safeguard confidential information and government resources. Today’s guilty plea shows IRS-Criminal Investigation will continually work with our law enforcement partners to protect the American taxpayer from this type of abuse.”

According to the allegations in the Information, court filings, and statements made in court:

From 1991 until mid-2021, MAY SALEHI was a State Department employee.  For many years, SALEHI worked as an engineer in the State Department’s Overseas Building Operations division (“OBO”), which directs the worldwide overseas building program for the State Department and the U.S. Government community serving abroad.

In 2016, the State Department solicited bids for a multimillion-dollar construction project known as a compound security upgrade to be performed at the U.S. Consulate in Bermuda (the “Bermuda Project”).  The bidding process involved the submission of blind, sealed bids from various bidders.  Six companies submitted sealed bids, one of which was named Montage, Inc. (“Montage”).

SALEHI was involved in the Bermuda Project in several respects.  Among other things, SALEHI served as the Chair of the Technical Evaluation Panel (“TEP”) – a panel of experts that evaluates the technical aspects of bids, including whether they meet the State Department’s structural and security needs.  In connection with the Bermuda Project, the TEP disqualified one bidder, but determined that the other five bids (including Montage’s bid) were technically acceptable.

In September 2016, the State Department’s employees who evaluate the cost of bids gave the remaining five bidders (including Montage) the opportunity to re-bid, if they wished to do so.  Montage had two days to decide whether to submit a re-bid.  During that two-day window, Montage’s principal, Sina Moayedi, spoke with SALEHI by phone and sought confidential inside bidding information about the relationship between Montage’s bid and those of its competitors, which SALEHI supplied.  SALEHI knew that this information was confidential, and that it was unlawful to provide it to a prospective bidder.  After Moayedi received this inside information from SALEHI, Montage immediately increased its bid by $917,820.  In its revised submission to the State Department, Moayedi and Montage lied as to the reason it had increased its bid by nearly $1 million, falsely claiming that it had discovered “an arithmetic error” in its estimates.  Montage was ultimately awarded the Bermuda Project with a revised bid of $6.3 million.

In the months that followed, Moayedi paid SALEHI a total of $60,000 in kickbacks, which he paid in three installments.  In making these kickback payments, Moayedi used intermediaries to obscure the link between him and SALEHI.  To conceal the true purpose of the kickback payments, SALEHI also gave one of the intermediaries a Persian rug.  SALEHI did not report the $60,000 kickback payments on her State Department financial disclosure form.

* * *

SALEHI, 66, of Washington, D.C., pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.  The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as SALEHI’s sentence will be determined by Judge Castel.

Sina Moayedi was arrested on May 28, 2021, on three charges contained in a criminal Complaint: wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and bribery of a public official.  The charges against Moayedi are pending.

Ms. Strauss praised the outstanding investigative work of the State Department OIG, Special Agents from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and IRS‑CI.  She also thanked Special Agents from the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Department.

The Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit is handling this criminal case.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael D. Neff and Louis A. Pellegrino are in charge of the prosecution.

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