Senate Confirmations: Bitter, Kim, Young, Symington, Donovan

Posted: 1:38 am ET

 

The U.S. Senate confirmed the following ambassador nominations on Wednesday, September 28. Five nominations included in SFRC’s business meeting on September 27 did not make it to the full Senate vote (see bottom list).  About 17 other ambassador nominations and FS lists are currently pending in committee and do not have scheduled hearings as of this writing.

DEPARTMENT OF STATE

Executive Calendar #728
Rena Bitter – to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Executive Calendar #729
Sung Y. Kim – to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of the Philippines

Executive Calendar #730
Andrew Robert Young – to be Ambassador of the United States of America to Burkina Faso

Executive Calendar #731
W. Stuart Symington – to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Federal Republic of Nigeria

Executive Calendar #732
Joseph R. Donovan Jr. – to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Indonesia

 

UNITED NATIONS

Executive Calendar #733
Christopher Coons – to be Representative of the United States of America to the Seventy-first Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations

Executive Calendar #734
Ronald H. Johnson – to be Representative of the United States of America to the Seventy-first Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations

 

Waiting for full Senate vote:

The following nomination and FS lists were in the agenda of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but appear not to make it through the full Senate vote. Note that the hyperlinked lists are those posted in the Senate’s Executive Calendar.

Ms. Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir, of Connecticut, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Malaysia

Jorge A. Abudei, et al., dated September 6, 2016 (PN 1704), as amended — (PN1704-2)

John Robert Adams, et al., dated September 6, 2016 (PN 1705) – (PN1705)

Jennisa Paredes, et al., dated July 13, 2016 (PN 1643), as amended — (PN1643-2)

Diana Isabel Acosta, et al., dated July 13, 2016 (PN 1642), as amended — (PN1642-2)

 

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Obama’s Career Ambassadorship Appointments: Highest on Record at 70.8% #ThanksObama

Posted: 1:09 am ET

 

According to @Philip Arsenault who has done a lot of good work using presidential records to track the ambassadorial appointees going back to FDR, President Obama appointed to-date the highest number of career diplomats as ambassadors at 70.8%, and the lowest number of non-career political appointees at 29.2%.

The political ambassadorships during Obama’s two terms amount to 29.2% of his total appointments, which is lower than President Carter, previously the lowest on record at 30.8%.

AFSA’s ambassadorship tracker has different numbers but we’ve stopped using the group’s ambassador statistics since 2015.  See our write up on AFSA’s Ambassador Statistics here and why we find its data problematic.

 

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Obama Nominates Career Diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis — First Ambassador to Cuba Since 1960

Posted: 1:12 pm ET

 

On September 27, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis to be the first U.S. Ambassador to Cuba in over 50 years:

President Obama said, “Today, I am proud to nominate Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis to be the first U.S. Ambassador to Cuba in more than 50 years. Jeff’s leadership has been vital throughout the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, and the appointment of an ambassador is a common sense step forward toward a more normal and productive relationship between our two countries. There is no public servant better suited to improve our ability to engage the Cuban people and advance U.S. interests in Cuba than Jeff.  A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Jeff has extensive experience in Cuba and Latin America.  He has served as our Chief of Mission in Havana since August 2014, and was posted to Havana twice before.  Jeff is already working with Cuba on issues that advance U.S. national interests, such as law enforcement, counternarcotics, environmental protection, combatting trafficking in persons, expanding commercial and agricultural opportunities, and cooperation in science and health.  He engages broadly with the Cuban people and expresses the United States’ strong support for universal values and human rights in Cuba.  Jeff also has extensive experience working with the United Nations.  During his most recent service at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations he served for three years as Ambassador, Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs.  Having an ambassador will make it easier to advocate for our interests, and will deepen our understanding even when we know that we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government.  He is exactly the type of person we want to represent the United States in Cuba, and we only hurt ourselves by not being represented by an Ambassador.  If confirmed by the Senate, I know Jeff will build on the changes he helped bring about to better support the Cuban people and advance America’s interests.

The WH released the following bio of the nominee:

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, is the Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, a position he has held since 2015.  He served as Chief of Mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba from 2014 to 2015.  Prior to that, Ambassador DeLaurentis served as Ambassador and Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations from 2011 to 2014.  Prior to that posting, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.  Ambassador DeLaurentis was previously Minister Counselor for Political Affairs and Security Council Coordinator at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.  Since beginning his State Department career in 1991, Ambassador DeLaurentis has served in a number of overseas posts, including twice before in Havana, first as consular officer from 1991 to 1993, then as Political-Economic Section Chief from 1999 to 2002.  He also served as Political Counselor at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, and Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota.  In Washington, Ambassador DeLaurentis served as Executive Assistant to the Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Director of Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council, and as an International Relations Officer in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs.  Prior to entering the Foreign Service, he held a senior staff position at the Council on Foreign Relations.  Ambassador DeLaurentis received a B.S. from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and an M.A. from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

According to history.state.gov, the United States remained in Cuba as an occupying power following the defeat of Spain in 1898, until the Republic of Cuba was formally installed on May 19, 1902. On May 20, 1902, the United States relinquished its occupation authority over Cuba, but claimed a continuing right to intervene in Cuba.  Diplomatic relations and the U.S. Legation in Havana were established on May 27, 1902, when U.S. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary Herbert Goldsmith Squiers presented his credentials to the Government of the Republic of Cuba. He served until December 2, 1905.

Following an act of Congress, the U.S. Legation in Havana, Cuba, was raised to Embassy status on February 10, 1923, when General Enoch H. Crowder was appointed Ambassador. He served until May 28, 1927.

The United States severed diplomatic relations with Cuba on January 3, 1961, citing unwarranted action by the Government of Cuba that placed crippling limitations on the ability of the United States Mission to carry on its normal diplomatic and consular functions.

On September 1, 1977, the United States established an Interests Section in the Swiss Embassy.  On July 20, 2015, the United States and Cuba resumed diplomatic relations when both countries elevated their respective Interests Sections to Embassy status. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed to the date for these actions in an exchange of letters dated June 30, 2015.

Between 1977 to 2015, 14 principal officers served at the Interest Section in Havana, including Ambassador DeLaurentis whose position was elevated to Chargé d’Affaires ad interim on July 20, 2015 when diplomatic relations were restored.

The last Senate-confirmed ambassador prior to the break in diplomatic relations was Philip Wilson Bonsal (1903–1995). He was appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary from March 3, 1959–October 28, 1960.   Daniel McCoy Braddock (1906–1980) served as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim until January 1961.

So if/when the Senate considers Ambassador DeLaurentis’ nomination, it will be the first time that they’ll do so since 1960.

 

Notable reactions, some with consequences to the confirmation of this nomination in the U.S. Senate.

 

Related Posts:

Stupefied: How the best and the brightest learn to switch off their brains at the office door

Posted: 11:57 am ET

 

André Spicer is professor of organisational behaviour at the Cass Business School at City, University of London, where he specialises in political dynamics, organisational culture and employee identity. His latest book, together with Mats Alvesson, is The Stupidity Paradox: The Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity at Work (2016). The following is an excerpt from his piece Stupefied on how organisations enshrine collective stupidity and how employees are rewarded for checking their brains at the office door.  The article was originally published in Aeon [http://aeon.co].

Organisations hire smart people, but then positively encourage them not to use their intelligence. Asking difficult questions or thinking in greater depth is seen as a dangerous waste. Talented employees quickly learn to use their significant intellectual gifts only in the most narrow and myopic ways.

Those who learn how to switch off their brains are rewarded. By avoiding thinking too much, they are able to focus on getting things done. Escaping the kind of uncomfortable questions that thinking brings to light also allows employees to side-step conflict with co-workers. By toeing the corporate line, thoughtless employees get seen as ‘leadership material’ and promoted. Smart people quickly learn that getting ahead means switching off their brains as soon as they step into the office.

Sounds familiar?  For those interested in further reading, the author co-published a study on a A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations with Mats Alvesson in the Journal of Management Studies in 2012.  The abstract is here; the full article is available for a fee here.

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@StateDept Terminates Evacuation Orders For U.S. Mission Turkey

Posted: 1:51 am ET

 

On September 23, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Turkey urging American citizens to carefully consider the risks of travel in the country. The notice also informs the public of the termination of the evacuation orders for family members of USG employees posted in Turkey:

The U.S. Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey. U.S. citizens should avoid travel to southeast Turkey and carefully consider the risks of travel to and throughout the  country. The U.S. Department of State is updating this Travel Warning to reflect the September 23, 2016 decision to end the authorization for the voluntary departure of family members of employees posted to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara and the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, which was made following the July 15, 2016 attempted coup. In addition, effective September 24, 2016, the Department of State is ending the ordered departure of family members of U.S. government personnel posted to the Consulate in Adana and family members of U.S. government civilians in Izmir. The Department of State will authorize employed adult dependents (21 year or older) of employees to return to Adana.

U.S. citizens should still carefully consider the need to travel to Turkey at this time. The Department continues to monitor the effects of the ongoing State of Emergency; recent terrorist incidents in Ankara, Istanbul, Gaziantep, and throughout the Southeast; recurring threats; visible increases in police or military activities; and the potential for restrictions on movement as they relate to the safety and well-being of U.S. citizens in Turkey. Delays securing consular access to U.S. citizens detained or arrested by security forces, some of whom also possess Turkish citizenship, continue.

Just a couple of days  prior to the Travel Warning, the US Embassy in Ankara issued a security message saying that there were reports of a police investigation into a terror cell in Gaziantep.  The information suggests the terrorists are possibly targeting shopping centers, Starbucks, Big Chef Restaurants and or other businesses catering to Western customers.   U.S. citizens in Gaziantep are advised to exercise caution when patronizing these sorts of businesses and to avoid them if possible.

 

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The State Dept’s Sexual Assault Reporting Procedure Appears to Be a Black Hole of Grief

Posted: 2:02 am ET
Updated: Sept 24, 4:08 pm PST | This piece was edited to use the more neutral word “report” instead of “allegation.” The guide on reporting sexual violence is teaching us that the use of the word “allegation” reinforces the disbelief that a crime actually occurred.

 

Last month, we received an anonymous allegation report of sexual assaults in the Foreign Service. It is alleged We were told that DS and MED “hide” the assaults “under pretense” that it is “the victim’s wish to keep it a secret.”

No specific case was cited only that there were incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We were also asked if we know what is the reporting process for sexual assault in the Foreign Service.

We told our correspondent that we will look into the reporting process because we actually had no idea. We were then warned: “On the off chance you get a response, it will probably be something along the lines of, “any victim of crime under chief of mission authority should report to their RSO; the Department takes such allegations extremely seriously.” 

 

Looking at public records

We started looking at publicly available records. We found one assault in 2009 which is only publicly available becase the case became an EEOC case (see Sexual Assault at a State Dept-Leased Apartment: If This Isn’t Abysmal Failure, What Is It?). In 2011, there was the case of a former CIA station chief to Algeria who received 65 months in jail for sexual assault on embassy property. In 2012, there was a case of an FS couple accused of slavery and rape of a housekeeper, In 2013, there was an FS specialist who was sentenced to 5 years in prison; the case was about the sex abuse of an adopted child. Also in 2013, CBS News reported on  several allegations including one about a regional security officer (RSO) in Lebanon who “engaged in sexual assaults” of the local guards.  A subsequent OIG investigation indicates that the alleged sexual misconduct of this security official spanned 10 years and 7 posts.

These are cases that we’ve written in this blog after they’ve become public.

We’ve poured over the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) and Foreign Affairs Handbook (FAH) and have reached out to the State Department and other contacts within its orbit to help us find the specific guidance for the reporting process on sexual assault. We have not been successful. For the record, it is not/not 3 FAM 1525, not 3 FAM 4428, not 3 FAM 1800 and not 7 FAM 1940.

 

Questions for the State Department

We sent some questions to the State Department, the blue italics below is the response from an agency’s spokesperson.

We asked: How does the State Department/Diplomatic Security handle sexual assault among members of the Foreign Service community overseas? The only thing I can find in the FAM is sexual assault relating to private American citizens, and services via the Consular Section.  

–What is the reporting process if the victim/perpetrator is under chief of mission authority?

–What is the reporting process if the alleged perpetrator is from the Regional Security Office or a senior Foreign Service official who oversees the RSO?

–Where is the FAM/FAH guidance for sexual assault?

The State Department response: “The State Department/Diplomatic Security handles sexual assault among members of the foreign service community overseas by adhering to Department guidelines. These guidelines are made available to all members of the foreign service community in Department cables and in the FAM. The Department guidelines outlined in these documents address the contingencies included in your questions.”

No specific cables were cited.  However, the FAM cited by the State Department in its response above is 1 FAM 260, specifically, 1 FAM 262.4-5 which only notes that the Office of Special Investigation (DS/DO/OSI) within Diplomatic Security is tasked with investigating extraterritorial criminal investigations including assault, sexual assault, domestic violence, etc. Go ahead and read it.  It does not/does not include nor describe the reporting process.

We asked: If a sexual assault occurs overseas to an employee/family member of USG employees, who are the officials informed about the incident?

–How is the information transmitted? Telegram, telephone, email?

–Is the communication done via secure or encrypted channels?

In response to the above question, a State Department’s spokesman said: “The reporting process calls for the regional security officer to contact the State Department’s Office of Special Investigations. This office is outside the regional security officer’s chain of command.”

The response is only partly responsive and only names the RSO and DS/OSI.  Even if DS/OSI is outside the RSO’s chain of command, this tells us that an alleged victim overseas has to go through post’s Regional Security Office; the RSO in that office must then contact DS/OSI located in Washington, D.C. for an investigation to be initiated.

You probably can already guess our next question.

What if the perpetrator is from the security office or the Front Office who oversees the RSO? How would that work? Also both the RSO overseas and DS/OSI back in DC are part of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. When we made these follow-up questions, the State Department simply repeated its original response:  “The reporting process calls for the regional security officer to contact the State Department’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI). This office is outside the regional security officer’s chain of command.  On your question on the Fam (sic): Sexual assault is a crime investigated by the Office of Special Investigations as outlined in 1 FAM 262.4-5.”

This is a disturbing response particularly in light of a previous CBS News report alleging that a regional security officer sexually assaulted local guards under his supervision and was accused of similar assaults in Baghdad, Khartoum and Monrovia. Okay, never mind CBS News, but the OIG investigation indicates that the same security officer’s alleged sexual misconduct spanned 10 years and 7 posts.  How many local guards were assaulted within those 10 years and in those 7 posts?  Perhaps it doesn’t or didn’t matter because it happened so long ago. Or it is because the alleged victims were non-U.S. citizens?

The other part of the question on how reports are transmitted is equally important. Are they sent via unclassified email? The perpetrator could be easily tipped off, and that potentially places the safety of the victim in jeopardy.

The third question we asked is a twofer. We wanted to know the statistics on sexual assault in the Foreign Service, specifically in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2003. The second part of our question is overall statistics on sexual assault in the Foreign Service worldwide, during the last 10 years. Note that we are not asking for names. We’re asking for numbers. We’re only asking for an accounting of sexual assault reports reported allegations since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to the present, and the worldwide number of allegations reports spanning over 280 overseas posts in the last 10 years. Surely those are available?

This is the State Department’s official response:

“The Office of Special Investigations receives and catalogues allegations and complaints. Allegations are neither categorized by location nor by alleged offense.”

Wh–aat? We actually fell off the darn chair when we read the above response.  If the allegations and complaints are not catalogued by location or alleged offense, how would the State Department  know if there is a trend, or a red flag they should be aware of?

Wouldn’t this constitute willful ignorance?

In our follow-up question, we asked who is responsible for the care and support of a Foreign Service victim? This is the response from a State Department spokesperson:

“The Department takes seriously the safety and well-being of its employees and their family members. The post health unit, Employee Consultation Services and the Regional psychiatrist are all available to assist a victim of sexual assault. MED would also assist if, for example, a medical evacuation to a third country or the United States is required. 

Generally MED does not provide direct clinical services in the States but has extensive resources to provide referrals for ongoing treatment.

Additionally, the Victim’s Resource Advocacy Program (VRAP) is available to provide advocacy services so the individual understands the judicial process and has support lines, plus resources applicable to the person’s goals to rebuild and heal.”

 

In a follow-on response, the State Department cites the Victim’s Resource Advocacy Program (VRAP). We had to dig around the net to see what is VRAP.  According to the State Department’s outline on divorce:

VRAP was created in November 2010 by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) “to empower those who have been victimized by crimes that are under DS investigation. A representative of this office also sits on the Department’s Family Advocacy Committee (chaired by the Director of MED/MHS), based in Washington DC. The VRAP is committed to assisting aggrieved individuals in overcoming difficulties that result from victimization by providing resources to deal with the realities that follow traumatic experiences and an understanding of the judicial processes surrounding criminal offenses. Contact VRAP at vrap@state.gov.”

Okay, but.  All that still does not give us a clear idea on the procedure for reporting sexual assault in the Foreign Service, does it? And most of the info is not even codified in the FAM or the FAH.

What happens in the space between “calling the RSO” and VRAP “empowering” those victimized by crimes — remains a black hole. It is not clear what kind of support or advocacy services and resources are provided to victims of sexual assault. We’ve asked; we haven’t heard anything back.

Since we could not find any guidance from the State Department, we went and look at what the reporting procedure is like at USAID, the Department of Defense, and Peace Corps.  As of this writing, we’ve received an acknowledgment from USAID but have not received an answer to our inquiry. Below is a quick summary for DOD and the Peace Corps:

 

DOD Sexual Assault Reporting Guidance

You may or may not know this but the Department of Defense actually has a separate website for sexual assault which makes it clear that sexual assault is a crime. Defined “as intentional sexual contact,” sexual assault is characterized by “use of force, threats, intimidation or abuse of authority, or when the victim does not or cannot consent.” It explains that sexual assault includes rape, forcible sodomy (oral or anal sex), and other unwanted sexual contact that is aggravated, abusive, or wrongful (including unwanted and inappropriate sexual contact) or attempts to commits these acts. It also notes the difference between sexual assault and sexual harassment. Its website is not just an explainer, it also provides information for assault victims:

If I am sexually assaulted, what should I do?
First, get to a safe place. If you are in need of urgent medical attention, call 911. If you are not injured, you still need medical assistance to protect your health. The medical treatment facility (MTF) offers you a safe and caring environment. To protect evidence, it is important that you do not shower, brush your teeth, put on make-up, eat, drink, or change your clothes until advised to do so. You or the MTF may report the crime to law enforcement, criminal investigation agencies, or to your chain of command. If you feel uncomfortable reporting the crime, consider calling a confidential counseling resource available to you.

Reporting Options: 
Restricted | Sexual assault victims who want to confidentially disclose a sexual assault without triggering an official investigation can contact a SARC/SHARP Specialist, VA/SHARP Specialist, or a healthcare provider. By filing a restricted report with a SARC/SHARP Specialist, VA/SHARP Specialist, or a healthcare provider, a victim can disclose the sexual assault without triggering an official investigation AND receive medical treatment, advocacy services, legal assistance, and counseling.

Unrestricted | This option is for victims of sexual assault who desire medical treatment, counseling, legal assistance, SARC/SHARP Specialist and VA/SHARP Specialist assistance, and an official investigation of the crime. When selecting unrestricted reporting, you may report the incident to the SARC/SHARP Specialist or VA/SHARP Specialist, request healthcare providers to notify law enforcement, contact law enforcement yourself, or use current reporting channels, e.g., chain of command. Upon notification of a reported sexual assault, the SARC/SHARP Specialist will immediately assign a VA/SHARP Specialist. You will also be advised of your right to access to legal assistance that is separate from prosecution resources. At the victim’s discretion/request, the healthcare provider shall conduct a sexual assault forensic examination (SAFE), which may include the collection of evidence. Details regarding the incident will be limited to only those personnel who have a legitimate need to know.


Peace Corps Sexual Assault Reporting Guidance

The Peace Corps says it provides “sexual assault risk-reduction and response training to both Volunteers and staff. Volunteers worldwide learn risk-reduction strategies such as bystander intervention training, and each post has two sexual assault response liaisons trained to directly assist Volunteers who are victims of sexual assault throughout the in-country response process.” It also provides around the clock, anonymous sexual assault hotline accessible to Volunteers by phone, text, or online chat that is staffed by external crisis counselors at pcsaveshelpline.org.

In addition, it provides volunteers who experience sexual assault the option to report the incident as restricted or as standard reporting. This is similar to DOD’s:

Restricted reporting limits the number of staff members with access to information about an assault to only those involved in providing support services requested by the Volunteer. This gives Volunteers access to critical support services while protecting their privacy and confidentiality, and allows the Peace Corps to provide support services to Volunteers who otherwise may not seek support.

Standard reporting provides Volunteers with the same support services along with the opportunity to initiate an official investigation, while maintaining confidentiality.

There’s no 911 in the Foreign Service

For Foreign Service employees and family members assigned overseas, there is no 911 to call. You get in trouble overseas, you call the security office of the embassy. If you are in a small post, you may have to deal with another officer who is assigned collateral duty as post security officer.  Post may or may not have a health unit or a regional medical officer. If there is a health unit, it may or may not be equipped or trained with gathering forensic evidence.  Above all, if you’re overseas as part of the Foreign Service, you are under chief of mission authority. What you do, what you say, where you live — basically, your life 24/7 is governed by federal regulations and the decision of the Front Office.

 

So to the question — if I am sexually assaulted, what should I do?

The State Department says that the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) and associated Foreign Affairs Handbooks (FAHs) are a single, comprehensive, and authoritative source for the Department’s organization structures, policies, and procedures that govern the operations of the State Department, the Foreign Service and, when applicable, other federal agencies. The FAM (generally policy) and the FAHs (generally procedures) together convey codified information to Department staff and contractors so they can carry out their responsibilities in accordance with statutory, executive and Department mandates.

Every time the FAM is updated, a Change Transmittal documents it.  All transmittals includes the following reminder: Officers are reminded that Department-issued materials not codified in the Foreign Affairs Manual or its supplemental Foreign Affairs Handbook series generally have no regulatory validity (see 2 FAM 1115.2).

Since there is no FAM or FAH specifically addressing sexual assault, we end up with a pretty uncomfortable question: Is the State Department saying that sexual assault does not happen in the Foreign Service — that’s why there’s no regs covering it?

If it’s not that, then — what is the reason sexual assault procedure is absent from its single, comprehensive, and authoritative source of policies, and procedures?

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Sexual Assault Related posts:

Sexual Harassment related posts:

 

 

Photo of the Day: When Blinken Meets Grover #UNGA #Refugees

Posted: 12:20 am ET
Updated: Sept 22, 12:56 am EST

 

Via state.gov

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Sesame Street's "Grover" to talk about refugees at the United Nations in New York City, New York on September 19, 2016. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Sesame Street’s “Grover” to talk about refugees at the United Nations in New York City, New York on September 19, 2016. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]


Here’s a video; almost afraid Grover was going to ask, “which state?”

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Sexual Assault at a State Dept-Leased Apartment: If This Isn’t Abysmal Failure, What Is It?

Posted: 7:01 pm ET

 

This is not a new case but we have not been aware of this case until we started digging around.  In 2009, a Policy Analyst with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) worked as a liaison to the State Department (the Agency).

According to EEOC records, in and around May 2009, the DHS employee (Complainant) was on a tour of duty in Germany, working as an Agency employee. Complainant asserts that, on May 10, 2009, while visiting a friend outside of duty hours, she was sexually assaulted by an individual who, at the time, was a State Department contractor. The incident took place in a State Department-leased apartment in Prague, Czech Republic. The EEOC decision dated June 16, 2011 notes that the accused individual subsequently became a permanent employee of the Agency.

The complainant had to make several attempts to report the sexual assault. She was eventually directed to contact the EEO office at DHS, who took no action, and refused to take her case because the attacker was not a DHS employee. She was sent to the Violent Crimes Unit of Diplomatic Security, who investigated the case and referred it to DOJ for prosecution. DOJ took no action. A DS investigator advised her to contact State/OCR. She interacted with that office for 6-7 months but these “activities focused primarily on resolving the matter as opposed to exploring or clarifying the extent of any EEO implications” according to the EEOC.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!

Then State/OCR dismissed the case for failure to state a claim and untimely contact with an EEO counselor.

Sexual assault is a crime punishable by law. Sexual assault and sexual harassment are not the same.  Sexual assault describes the catch-all crime that encompasses unwanted sexual touching of many kinds, with links to state penal code and federal law on related crimes.  It includes rape, forcible sodomy (oral or anal sex), and other unwanted sexual contact that is aggravated, abusive, or wrongful (including unwanted and inappropriate sexual contact) or attempts to commits these acts.

FindLaw notes that Federal law directs judges to examine a number of factors, including the defendant’s criminal history and his or her acceptance of responsibility, when setting a punishment. The federal law criminalizing sexual assault sets a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and also provides for fines. In addition, federal law provides that those convicted of sexual assault must compensate their victims for any expenses directly related to the crime. This can include costs for medical care, physical or occupational therapy, attorney’s fees, and other related expenses.

But first, you’ve got to investigate, charge the perpetrator and find him or her guilty.

The complainant here alleged that she was sexually assaulted in USG-leased housing, why did people send her to an Equal Employment Opportunity office for godsakes? Why did DOJ take no action? If there was probable cause for Diplomatic Security to refer this case to DOJ for prosecution, how did the contractor become a State Department employee? This incident happened in 2009, the victim did not get to file her case until a year later, and the EEOC did not make a decision until 2011. At some time during this lengthy process, the victim resigned from federal service. The unnamed alleged attacker may still be in the bureaucracy.

Sure, we could call this abysmal systems failure.

But just about every part of this process was deplorably bad. And the people who worked in the system made it so.

Excerpts below from the EEOC decision (we underlined some parts for emphasis):

Reporting sexual assault — Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!

In and around May 2009, Complainant was on a tour of duty in Germany, working as an Agency employee. Complainant asserts that, on May 10, 2009, while visiting a friend outside of duty hours, she was sexually assaulted by an individual who, at the time, was an Agency contractor.1 This individual subsequently became a permanent employee of the Agency. The record does not indicate in what capacity he was employed or the date his employment began.

After making several attempts to report the sexual assault and being redirected to various components in DHS, Complainant was eventually directed to contact DHS’ EEO office, which she did on June 1, 2009. The record suggests that DHS engaged in limited EEO counseling, but took no action to process Complainant’s allegations as a potential EEO complaint.  Instead, approximately a week after her June 1 contact, DHS effectively dismissed Complainant from the EEO process, concluding that it could not entertain her issues because the alleged attacker was not its employee.  DHS then advised Complainant to contact the Agency, which she did on June 11, 2009.

Soon thereafter, a criminal investigation was initiated by the Violent Crimes Unit of the Agency’s Office of Diplomatic Security. Complainant was cautioned to refrain from discussing the May 10 incident until the investigation was complete. In October 2009, the Agency referred the matter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for prosecution upon finding probable cause to believe Complainant’s allegations were true. For reasons not reflected in the record, DOJ took no action.

On October 23, 2009, pursuant to the advice of the Violent Crimes Unit investigator, Complainant contacted the Agency’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). During the next six or seven months, she interacted with various OCR representatives whose activities focused primarily on resolving the matter as opposed to exploring or clarifying the extent of any EEO implications.  On May 24, 2010, Complainant filed a sparsely worded formal complaint which contained a single averment of discrimination relating to the sexual assault and several items of requested relief.

In a September 28, 2010 FAD, the Agency dismissed the May 24 complaint upon finding that it failed to state a claim and that Complainant failed to timely contact an EEO counselor.  The instant appeal followed. We note that Complainant is pro se.

Contentions on appeal

In a statement accompanying her appeal, Complainant argues that the chronology of relevant events belies the Agency’s finding that she was untimely in initiating EEO counseling. She also appears to raise questions regarding the trustworthiness of the FAD (final agency decision) by noting several errors of fact reflected in the Agency’s reasoning. The Agency filed no response.

EEOC reversed the State Department’s dismissal

The Agency does not dispute that the alleged assault occurred on May 10, 2009.  Nor does it dispute that Complainant first sought counseling on June 1, 2009 with DHS. The Agency’s finding that Complainant was untimely is premised on the apparent view that her DHS contact had no significance under subsection 105(a)(1). We conclude that it did. To rule otherwise would require the Commission to ignore the plain wording of the subsection, which provides only that aggrieved individuals contact “a” Counselor within the stated time. There is no requirement that the Counselor be from the agency that receives the complaint.3  In this case, Complainant logically initiated contact with a Counselor in the agency where she was employed.

It is self-evident that June 1, 2009 is within 45 days of May 10, 2009. We, therefore, find that Complainant’s counseling contact was timely and reverse the Agency’s dismissal on this ground.

Alleged perpetrator went from contractor to employee

The Commission’s regulation at 29 C.F.R. § 1614.107(a)(1) authorizes an agency to dismiss a complaint that fails to state a claim that can be remedied through the EEO process.  In its FAD, the Agency concluded that Complainant failed to assert a remediable claim because neither she nor her alleged attacker was functioning in work status when the “event in question” occurred. The non-work status of Complainant and her alleged attacker, on May 10, 2009,  would likely be dispositive of this appeal were we to find that the “matter” in question, when the complaint was filed, was clearly confined to the alleged assault.4 Such a finding cannot be made, however, on the basis of the current record.

We are mindful, initially, that the counseling process was unduly erratic and prolonged in this case. Indeed, more than a year had elapsed before Complainant was provided the opportunity to file a formal complaint. Several events occurred, in the interim, which are potentially relevant to the sufficiency of her complaint.

For instance, by the time the complaint was filed, there had been a change in status of the individual the Agency believed had “probably” assaulted Complainant. He went from being an Agency contractor to an Agency employee. Although it is not clear whether, as a DHS “liaison” to the Agency, Complainant had (or would have)  been required to work with (or for) this individual, we find it significant that, at some point prior to filing the complaint, Complainant resigned from federal service. The record suggests that the resignation was under duress and may have related to a requirement that she refrain from discussing her ordeal.  See Complaint File, April 21, 2010 email from Complainant to named Agency official (“I don’t want to be forced to keep [the attacker’s] secret when I’m the one being hurt and losing.”)

At this juncture, we do not know how (if at all) Complainant’s employment may have been affected by the May 2009 incident. The record is wholly undeveloped in this regard. However, we can say that, if the Agency had directed Complainant to remain silent in order to protect the alleged attacker or facilitate his employment, it could hardly be found (as the Agency did) that the incident did not “involve” any term or condition of her employment. Without suggesting that the known facts in this case, by necessity, implicate a potential claim of “sexual harassment,” it is relevant to note that the Commission has recognized that harassment which occurs outside of work may state a claim when the effect of the off-duty incident creates an “intolerable influence on the employee’s working conditions.” Kokangul v. Department of the Army, EEOC Appeal No. 01A61380 (July 6, 2006)

Deficient EEO processing — looking at you S/OCR

We make no finding with regard to the existence of a viable discrimination claim arising from the May 2009 incident. We merely find that deficiencies in processing, as well as the record, render it impossible to determine the full measure of the concerns Complainant sought to pursue through the EEO process.  The quality of the EEO counseling, provided by the Agency and DHS, left much to be desired in terms of ensuring the record would be adequate to assess the sufficiency of any formal complaint that Complainant might file.

Incomplete files

It is unclear, for example, why the Complaint File does not include the Violent Crime Unit’s report, given its obvious relevance to the matter that prompted Complainant to seek EEO counseling. Also inexplicably missing from the record is a “statement” Complainant apparently prepared during the course of the counseling process.6 The absence of this and other information renders the record insufficient to determine the nature of any claim Complainant may have sought to assert.

Should have – what, whose contractor?

Finally, we note that the Agency also relied on 29 C.F.R. § 1614.106(a) as a ground for dismissing the complaint, finding that Complainant should have filed it against DHS because the alleged attacker was a DHS contractor.7 This ground is also found to be without merit. There is nothing in the record that contradicts the statements made by Complainant and others that her attacker was a contractor (and later an employee) of the Agency—not DHS.

*

The complainant here would have been under chief of mission authority in Germany where she was assigned a tour of duty. We don’t know what would have been her status in the Czech Republic where the alleged attack took place. But the incident occurred in a State Department-leased apartment. So we expect that the State Department would have been the investigating authority.  This case happened in 2009 and decided by the EEOC in 2011.  This got us thinking on what procedure is in place for reporting sexual assault in the Foreign Service.

We’ve spent the last several days trying to locate the Foreign Service Manual or Foreign Affairs Handbook for the procedure in reporting sexual assault in the Foreign Service, but have been unsuccessful, so far. We were able to find 7 FAM 1940  REPORTING CRIME VICTIM CASES, but this section only apply to non-official, private Americans and the reporting covers only crimes reported to a consular officers abroad by victims, their families or by the host country government and which result in a consular officer or officers providing substantial assistance to the victim.

We’ve asked the State Department for its sexual assault regs and guidance; we’ve received a response but it deserves a separate post.

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Decision Window For Federal Long Term Care Insurance With Shocking Premium Hike Closes 9/30/16

Posted: 3:01 am ET

 

Excerpted from CRS Insight (PDF), September 2016 via Secrecy News:

On July 16, 2016, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced a premium rate increase for long-term care insurance policies purchased through the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP). The new rates were established following an open competitive bidding process. That process awarded a new seven-year contract to the prior insurer and sole bidder, John Hancock Life & Health Insurance Company, to continue providing coverage. According to OPM, the higher premiums are based on an analysis that used updated assumptions of industry trends and claims experience. The analysis determined that current FLTCIP premiums were not sufficient to meet projected costs and benefits. Most federal workers enrolled in FLTCIP are affected by the premium increase (an estimated 264,000 of the 274,000 enrollees).

During OPM’s 2016 Enrollee Decision Period, enrollees affected by the rate increase have until September 30, 2016, to decide whether to:

(1) keep their current coverage and pay the increase;
(2) reduce coverage in order to maintain their current premium; or
(3) allow their policies to lapse (i.e., drop coverage in the program).

Rate increases are scheduled to take effect November 1, 2016.
[…]
According to news sources, premiums are expected to increase by 83%, on average. Some Members of Congress have expressed their concerns to OPM leadership and John Hancock about such dramatic increases, calling for more time for enrollees to assess options as well as for congressional hearings on the issue.

Rate Stability and Long-Term Care Insurance

Federal workers are not the only policyholders to face LTCI premium increases. Over the past two decades, annual LTCI premiums have increased significantly overall for both current and new policyholders. Higher average premiums reflect increased demand for more comprehensive benefit packages (including inflation protection) and higher daily benefit amounts. Premium increases have also been driven by inadequate medical underwriting, premiums that were initially set too low, and insufficient growth in reserves to cover future claims. Thus, premium or rate stability depends largely on the ability of insurers to adequately predict future claims. Most policies issued before the mid-2000s have incorrectly predicted claims, necessitating changes to key pricing assumptions. For example, rising claims, lower mortality rates, lower-than-predicted voluntary termination (lapse) rates, and lower-than-predicted rates of return on investments have been cited as key reasons for LTCI premium increases. Nevertheless, large rate increases, such as those proposed by the FLTCIP, are likely to have a continued effect on consumer confidence in these products, possibly leading to further reductions in consumer demand.

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@StateDept Updates Policy Guidance on Special Rest and Recuperation (SR&R) Travel

Posted: 12:12 am ET

 

On August 10, 2016, the State Department updated its policy guidance on Special Rest and Recuperation (SR&R) for the Foreign Service at State, USAID, Commerce, Agriculture and BBG.  SR&R is discretionary R&R travel authorized by the Under Secretary for Management.  These are additional R&R trips for posts already designated for R&R trips as specified in 3 FAM 3725.2, or for a post that does not normally qualify for an R&R but experiences extraordinary circumstances that warrant a one-time R&R.  Note that due to their immediate proximity to the United States, Mexico border posts are not eligible for SR&R (or R&R) according to the Foreign Affairs Manual.

3 FAM 3727.1 Special Rest and Recuperation (SR&R)
(CT:PER-828; 08-10-2016)
(Uniform State/USAID/Commerce/Agriculture/BBG)
(Applies to Foreign Service Employees only)

a. In extraordinary circumstances, the Under Secretary for Management (M), acting on behalf of the Secretary, may authorize additional R&R trips for posts already designated for R&R trips as specified in 3 FAM 3725.2, or for a post that does not normally qualify for an R&R but experiences extraordinary circumstances that warrant a one-time R&R. This discretionary R&R travel authorized by M is known as Special R&R travel (SR&R).

(1) With the exception of Mexico border posts, any post that is in unaccompanied status or has a combined Post Differential and Danger Pay rate of 35 percent will automatically qualify for one SR&R.

(2) If a post does not automatically qualify for one SR&R or the post automatically qualifies for one SR&R but would like to request additional SR&Rs, that post must seek authorization by having the appropriate regional bureau executive director send a memorandum to the Director of the Office of Allowances (A/OPR/ALS). The memorandum must include a clear justification (in 250 words or less) for any requested SR&R including specific extraordinary conditions of hardship which exist at post. The Director of A/OPR/ALS will convene a nine-member committeewhich shall include one representative from each regional bureau, HR, M/PRI, and Allowancesto review all SR&R requests and send recommendations to M for final approval. In order to recommend an SR&R to M, seven of the nine committee members must vote in favor of the SR&R. A/OPR/ALS will notify all requesting offices of Ms determination and update Special R&R information in the annual bidding tool. One-year Priority Staffing Posts (PSP) and posts with Service Recognition Packages (SRP) fall outside the purview of this process.

(3) Authorization for Special R&R expires annually. Requests for new, multiple, or continuation of Special R&R travel must be resubmitted to regional bureaus by memorandum no later than May 15 each year.

(4) The SR&R qualification process was changed in August 2016. For posts that will lose one or more SR&Rs under the new process, personnel who were serving at or paneled to those posts during the 2016-2017 winter cycle will be grandfathered in under the old system for the length of their tour. This means that those individuals will be awarded the SR&Rs that they would have been given under the system immediately prior to the change in August 2016.

c. The Under Secretary for Management may designate in writing a post for a SR&R where the tour of duty is not traditional. A Special R&R may be warranted because of extreme danger, unaccompanied post status, severely substandard living conditions, extreme isolation, or other unusual conditions. Because of their immediate proximity to the United States, Mexico border posts are not eligible for SR&R (or R&R).

d. Clearances for initiating and terminating a SR&R must be obtained by the requesting regional bureau from other foreign affairs agencies when such agencies have personnel at post. (For USAID, contact the regional bureau AMS staff.)

e. When approval for a SR&R is requested from M, the regional bureau executive director shall recommend whether all employees currently at post or employees arriving at post will be eligible for it. For example, employees on TDY; employees whose departure from post is imminent; or new employees who will not experience the same degree of hardship that current employees have experienced, might be excluded. If M approves the SR&R, the post shall be notified of any such limitations by the regional bureau.

3 FAM 3727.2 Eligibility and Tour of Duty
(CT:PER-828; 08-10-2016)
(Uniform State/USAID/Commerce/Agriculture/BBG)
(Applies to Foreign Service Employees only)

a. The Departments policy for time spent at post for Special R&Rs differs from that of regular R&Rs discussed in 3 FAM 3722, paragraph a. For example, SR&Rs may be authorized for posts with a tour of duty of less than 2 years. In addition, the employee is not required to complete the requirements for the regular R&R in order to be eligible for the Special R&R. For:

Tour of duty of less than 2 years: An employee must be able to complete a minimum of 12 months at post to be eligible for the Special R&R. Generally, a post with a tour of duty of less than 2 years will not be authorized more than one Special R&R.

Tour of duty of 2 years: Employees at posts with 2-year tours of duty (including a split 4-year tour of duty) must be able to complete a minimum of 12 months at post to be eligible for a Special R&R. Generally, no more than two R&R trips (Special and/or regular) will be authorized for posts with a tour of duty of 2 years.

Tour of duty of 3 years: Employees, whose assignments are extended to 3 years at posts that have been granted both Special and regular R&Rs, may receive an additional R&R trip for the extra year of service. Generally, no more than three R&R (Special and regular) trips will be authorized for posts with a tour of duty of 3 years.

b. The Department policy for time spent at post for Special R&Rs differs further in the case of employees serving at certain posts specifically designated by the Director General for home leave after completion of 12 months of continuous service abroad. Employees in such a category should consult applicable service recognition packages and post policies to determine eligibility for R&R travel.

c. The Bureau of Human Resources, Office of Employee Relations, Employee Programs Division, is available for policy guidance.

Read in full:  3 FAM 3720 REST AND RECUPERATION (R&R) TRAVEL (changes are in magenta).

 

Related items:

3 FAH-1 H-3720  | REST AND RECUPERATION (R&R) TRAVEL

3 FAH-1 Exhibit H-3722(1)  Posts and Designated Relief Areas For R&R Travel

 

 

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