Anne A. Witkowsky Sworn-In as Asst Secretary For Conflict and Stabilization Operations

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@StateDept’s Vacant Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy, Who Cares?

 

Via Mountainrunner:

Here we are on January 14, days away from the end of the first year of the Biden Administration, and there is still no nomination for the office of Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. There were rumors of a forthcoming nomination around last autumn and recently I heard a nomination could be announced later this year. At this point, who would want a job that has been broadly neglected, often treated as an inconsequential sideshow, and whose authority, already slight, has been substantially reduced over the past couple of years?
[…]
Nine months ago, Cole Livieratos and I tried to get an article published on the unrealized potential of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs as the government’s well-placed central international information officer for US foreign policy (which includes national security, though I sense some feel the two are distinctly separate). As Cole – an active duty US Army Major, trained strategist, Georgetown Ph.D., and currently teaching at West Point – tweeted this week about our earlier effort, “Can’t emphasize enough what that says about how unserious we are about global inform/influence efforts.”

 

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@StateDept Fails in FSGB Defense Over Coersive (Unlawful) Curtailment

 

The FSGB found that the State Department committed in prohibited personnel practice (“PPP”) violation of 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(4) against an FS employee stationed overseas when it coerced his curtailment from post. The Board also found that the curtailment in this case failed to comply with 3 FAM 2443.2. This case is horrifying in how carelessly embassy officials can chuck anyone out the airlock.
Also see FSGB: When Voluntary Curtailment Is NOT Truly Voluntary
According to the FSGB ROP, the Department questioned “whether 5 U.S.C § 2302 applies to Foreign Service Officers, because Title 5 of the U. S. Code applies only to Civil Service Employees.15 However, it concludes that, assuming the provision applies, there is no evidence to support the finding of a violation”.
The Board’s decision says “we address the Department’s question of whether Foreign Service Officers are protected against prohibited personnel practices. […] Under Section 105 (b)(2)(B)(4) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, all FS members are free from any personnel practice prohibited by 5 U.S.C. § 2302. […] we find that PPP protections apply to Foreign Service Officers under Section 105 of the FSA.
The oldest executive agency then argued before the Grievance Board that the Senior Regional Security Officer’s alleged statement that “all this would go away,” while putting his hand on the investigatory file, “could have merely meant the file itself would be gone or that the Ambassador’s determination to involuntarily curtail him would be obviated by his decision to voluntarily curtail.”
And get this, the Department concludes that the “vague statement” by the SRSO was not deceitful.”
The Department also argued that grievant has “failed to meet his burden to show that the SRSO knew that his statement was untrue or that he acted with an intent to mislead grievant.”
Oh, lordy!
Then covering all its bases — “even assuming that the statement was deceitful, the Department contends that Section 2302(b)(4) only applies to “competition for employment,” which is limited to hiring and promotions and does not apply to the retention of employment.14  Although curtailment is an assignment, it is not a process of hiring or promotion.”
The Department agreed that “it committed a harmless error of its curtailment procedures.”
It sure wasn’t “harmless” on the affected employee and his family, was it?
The FSGB did not buy it.

It is clear that the Board’s analysis found that the SRSO engaged in deceit. The statute prohibits “deceit or willful obstruction.” While obstruction is defined as willful, the drafters did not see a need to use the adjective with deceit. Deceit is willful; it is not negligent or inadvertent.

The Board includes “deceit” in the footnotes:

26 Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed, 2014) defines deceit: “1. The act of intentionally leading someone to believe something that is not true; an act designed to deceive or trick. 2. A false statement of fact made by a person knowingly or recklessly (i.e., not caring whether it is true or false) with the intent that someone else will act on it. 3. A tort arising from a false representation made knowingly or recklessly with the intent that another person should detrimentally rely on it.”

On curtailments, the Department notes that “under 3 FAM 2443.2(a), the Chief of Mission (COM) has discretion to determine curtailment when it would be in the best interest of the post. While the COM must follow procedures, there is no evidentiary standard, and the curtailment procedures do not require the same rigor as the disciplinary process.”
The Department then makes a shocking or maybe not really a shocking admission:

“..there were serious allegations against grievant, and the COM was not required to determine whether they were true, but only if the curtailment was in the best interests of the post.”

Wait, what? So anyone could make a claim, state an allegation, anyone could start a rumor, and COM is not required to determine whether they were true? How bonkers is that?
Via Record of Proceedings
FSGB Case No. 2019030 | September 29, 2021

The Department’s MFR seeks reconsideration of the Order on two grounds. The first ground for reconsideration is that the Department claims that the Board committed “clear error” by failing to find evidence of two essential elements of a prohibited personnel practice (“PPP”), in violation of 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(4), despite finding that the Department committed a PPP. The missing elements, according to the Department, are – a willful or deliberate deception and a competition for a position. The second basis for reconsideration is that the Department claims that the Board committed “clear error” by conflating the curtailment and discipline procedures when it failed to remand to the Department the question of whether it would have curtailed grievant absent the procedural error by failing to follow the Department’s curtailment regulations.

Grievant, an FS-02 Security Engineering Officer (“SEO”), served as the Deputy Officer in Charge (“DOIC”) of the Department’s Engineering Services Office (“ESO”) at the U.S. Embassy in REDACTED (“post”) from August 2016 to January 18, 2017. His rater was the Officer-in-Charge (“OIC”), and his reviewer was the Senior Regional Security Officer (“SRSO”).

The incident that led to a preliminary investigation of the grievant and, subsequently, an in-depth investigation of him by the Office of Civil Rights (“S/OCR”), is an alleged threat made by grievant at the end of December 2016. On January 10, 2017,1 a supervisee claimed that grievant had made an implied threat of physical violence to him, and the SRSO assigned the Assistant Regional Security Officer (“the ARSO”) to investigate and notified the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (“DS”), Office of Special Investigation (“DS/DO/OSI”). On January 12, post management briefed the Ambassador, who decided to exercise his authority under 16 STATE 27226 to curtail grievant from post. Later that day, January 12, the SRSO, grievant’s reviewing officer, held a meeting with grievant, two Human Resource Officers, and grievant’s rater and told grievant that the Ambassador had decided that he would be involuntarily curtailed if he did not voluntarily curtail, and if he voluntarily curtailed, “all of this,” gesturing to the investigative file, “would go away and it would be as if he had been curtailed for family reasons.”2

But the investigation did not, in fact, “go away.”

On January 14, the ARSO issued an RSO Report, which the Accountability and Suitability Board (“A&SB”), which included the SRSO, discussed that day with the Ambassador. The case was referred to the Department of State’s Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) that same day. On January 16, the Management Counselor prepared a Decision Memorandum (“Decision Memo”) in Support of No-Fault Curtailment, which was sent to the front office. A day later, on January 17, grievant met with the HRO at post and formally accepted a “voluntary curtailment,” and management approved his request that day. On January 18, Grievant curtailed without having been advised of the ARSO’s report or of the referrals to S/OCR and to
DS/DO/OSI.
[…]
GTM/ER proposed to suspend grievant on a single charge of Improper Comments, with three specifications. The Deciding Official (“DO”) sustained only two of these specifications, both dealing with alleged threats. With the dismissal of the third specification, all potential EEO violations were dismissed. The DO reduced the penalty from a two-day to a one-day suspension.”5

Grievant filed an agency-level grievance, alleging that the one-day suspension violated regulations; that his 2017 Employee Evaluation Report (“EER”) contained a falsely prejudicial statement based on the charge; that the RSO Report contained a falsely prejudicial statement that he had been counseled for anger management; that his curtailment was coerced and unlawful under 12 STATE 27212 (“Curtailment of Employee Based on Conduct or Disciplinary Issues”); and that his assignment to a non-supervisory, overcomplement6 position was based on a PPP. The grievance was denied by the Department.

Board found that the Department committed a PPP, in violation of 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(4). […]Moreover, even without the PPP finding, the Board found that the curtailment failed to comply with 3 FAM 2443.2, and the Department does not challenge that finding.

[…]
By inducing grievant’s “voluntary curtailment” on an unenforceable assurance, post avoided going through the procedural safeguards of 3 FAM 2443.2, which apply to voluntary curtailments that are initiated at the request of the COM. What the Department does not acknowledge is that the SRSO (importantly, grievant’s reviewing official, the official who had directed the ARSO’s investigation and notified DS/DO/OSI and a member of the A&SB advising the Ambassador) told grievant that if he voluntarily curtailed, it would be “as if he curtailed for family reasons.” That would mean a curtailment under 3 FAM 2443.1 with no prospect of discipline.

The Board denied in full the Department’s Second Motion for Reconsideration and issued six other orders related to back pay, reconstituted Selection Boards, promotion, and interest on back pay.
The Board ordered remedies for violations of 3 FAM 2443.2 and 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(4) , remedies for falsely prejudicial language in Grievant’s EER; attorney’s fees request is held in abeyance until final resolution of the remedies.
The remedies ordered include:

2. The Department shall pay grievant “an amount equal to all, or any part of the pay, allowances, or differentials [including overtime], as applicable, which [he] normally would have earned or received” during the period of 18 ½ months of the remainder of his posting at post, had he not been improperly curtailed, less any amounts he earned through other employment during that period, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 5596(b)(1)(A)(i), 5 C.F.R. 550, Subpart H..

4. The Department shall hold four reconstituted Selection Boards for the years when grievant’s OPF contained the uncorrected 2017 EER.

5. If grievant is promoted by any of the reconstituted SBs, the promotion should beretroactive to the date a promotion would have been implemented by the SB for which it was reconstituted. The Department shall pay the wage differential from the date of any retroactive promotion.

6. The Department shall pay interest on any back pay awards due under this order.

The conduct of these government representatives at this post should be labeled “notoriously disgraceful conduct”. And the State Department should be shamed for defending this type of unacceptable behavior.  Oh, please don’t tell us these people all got promoted!
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Note: Depending on the browser you’re using, the FSGB cases may not be available to read online; each record may need to be downloaded to be accessible. With Firefox browser, however, you may select “open with Firefox” if you want to read the case file, or save the file to your computer. Please use the search button here to locate specific FSGB records.

 

 

Photo of the Day: Secretary Blinken With Health Incident Response Task Force’s Moore and Uyehara

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with Health Incident Response Task Force Ambassador Jonathan Moore and Senior Care Coordinator Ambassador Margaret Uyehara, at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., on November 5, 2021. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain]

Related post:

Blinken Announces New Appointees For #HavanaSyndrome Task Force

 

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In Unsurprising News, Watchdog Finds WSOS Violated Federal Law With RNC Speech

 

 

Related posts:

Blinken Announces New Appointees For #HavanaSyndrome Task Force

 

Last Friday, Secretary Blinken made an on-camera remarks at the State Department  to talk about the “Department’s Health Incidents Response Task Force” including the appointments of  Ambassador Margaret Uyehara as the agency’s senior care coordinator and Ambassador Jonathan Moore as the head of the Health Incident Response Task Force in Foggy Bottom.
Blinken on Ambassador Uyehara as “senior care coordinator”:

“I’m very pleased to share that we recently appointed Ambassador Margaret Uyehara to serve as our senior care coordinator. A career member of the Foreign Service with three decades of experience at the State Department, she has already gotten to work advocating for those affected, including assisting them with workers’ compensation and the benefits process. She’s compassionate; she’s effective. We’re grateful for her and her commitment to this vital issue. Additionally, last month, the State Department began a partnership with Johns Hopkins University to expand the top-tier care available to employees and families who have been affected by Anomalous Health Incidents.Now they can access the university’s outstanding medical professionals and facilities as well.”

There does not appear to be an official bio for her at state.gov right now. It appears that she retired from the Foreign Service so  it is likely that her work hours, like other State Department’s re-employed annuitants will also be capped at no more than 1,040 hours during her appointment year.
A throwback from her Montenegro appointment:

Uh-oh! Also another throwback via ISP-I-17-41 Inspection of Embassy Podgorica, Montenegro:

While embassy employees told OIG that the Ambassador and DCM held themselves to the high ethical standards that 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214 establishes, American staff consistently evaluated the Ambassador negatively against the leadership principles that are described in 3 FAM 1214. For instance, some employees described the Ambassador as a micromanager which delayed the clearance process for embassy memos and reports. Employees told OIG that rapid-fire taskings, shifting priorities, and the Ambassador’s ambitious agenda hindered their ability to perform their core responsibilities. Further, employees expressed that they hesitated to offer differing points of view as the Ambassador did not proactively solicit their input and was not receptive to dissent. Some embassy personnel described the Ambassador as intimidating in her interactions with American and LE staff, which inhibited staff discourse and negatively affected mission morale.

Such characteristics and interactions as described above are not in accord with the highest standards of interpersonal conduct as outlined in 3 FAM 1214. The Department sets clear expectations for leadership to follow certain principles because it fosters the highest attainable degree of employee productivity and morale, all of which are essential to achieving mission goals and objectives. The Ambassador assured OIG that she valued the Department’s leadership principles and would use her unique position to lead by example.

Blinken on Ambassador Jonathan Moore:

“I’m pleased to announce the new head of our Health Incident Response Task Force: Ambassador Jonathan Moore. Jonathan brings decades of experience grappling with complex policy challenges. His career in the Foreign Service has taken him from posts around the globe, from Bosnia to Namibia, and he’s managed portfolios ranging from Russia policy to engagement with the United Nations.Across each of his assignments, Jonathan has brought a strong analytical capacity and fidelity to the facts.He knows the State Department.He knows the inter-agency process.And he cares about the people he works with, which is particularly important for this assignment, for which treating people with empathy and decency is absolutely key.”

According to his official bio, Ambassador Moore was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and Acting Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs, where he oversaw policy regarding the United Nations and UN agencies – including on health, environment, science, and technology – between November 2018 and March 2020. It looks like his tenure overlapped for a year with the infamous tenure of Kevin Moley who was bureau assistant secretary from March 29, 2018 – November 29, 2019 (see IO’s Kevin Moley Accused of Political Retribution Finally Leaves the Building). The OIG report is available to read here:  Review of Allegations of Politicized and Other Improper Personnel Practices in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs.
Previously, he was DCM at US Embassy Minsk in 2006 and later served as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim from March 2008–July 2009. The OIG report for Embassy Minsk had some good things to say about him:

A newly arrived Ambassador and DCM are exercising firm, clear direction at Embassy Minsk. While emphasizing the preliminary nature of their observations and judgments, Americans at the embassy scored both officials highly on OIG questionnaires. In interviews during the inspection, American staff praised the officials for their openness and willingness to engage deeply in the details of all embassy policies and operations.

Embassy Minsk is a small, well-run mission that now attracts a sufficient number of qualified Foreign Service bidders. Operating in a hostile political environment, the embassy is a 25-percent hardship differential post.
[…]
The DCM (sometimes with the Ambassador) meets with the consular section chief in her office weekly, although issues can easily be raised at any time. The DCM reviews the consular chief ’s visa decisions and supports a by-the-book visa referral policy that is reviewed annually.

We’re hoping to see improvements on how these cases are handled.
Let’s see what happens.

 

Related:

 

Diplomatic Security Gets Career DSS Special Agent Carlos F. Matus as New DS/PDAS and DSS Director

 

Last month, the State Department named career DSS agent Carlos F. Matus as PDAS for Diplomatic Security  (DS) and director of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). Below is his official bio:

Carlos F. Matus, a career Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) special agent and DSS senior official, was named principal deputy assistant secretary (PDAS) of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and director of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), U.S. Department of State, on September 13, 2021. He previously served as acting DSS director.

As PDAS and DSS director, Matus is responsible for the operations of the most widely represented law enforcement and security organization in the world, with offices in 33 U.S. cities and 275 U.S. diplomatic posts overseas. DSS is the law enforcement and security arm of the U.S. Department of State and is responsible for protecting U.S. diplomacy and the integrity of U.S. travel documents.

Matus, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, joined DSS as a special agent in 1987. Throughout his 34 years of service, Matus has served around the world at U.S. embassies in Honduras, Panama, Afghanistan, Austria, Haiti, Pakistan, Brazil; DSS field offices in Washington, D.C., and Miami; and at DSS headquarters.

Among his most recent career highlights, Matus served as director of protective intelligence investigations, 2016; senior regional security officer, U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan, 2016-17; deputy assistant secretary for the high threat programs directorate, 2017-19; and acting deputy assistant secretary for threat investigations and analysis until he assumed the position of acting DSS director in 2020.

Matus is an individual recipient of multiple State Department meritorious and superior honor awards. The U.S. Marine Corps recognized him twice as Regional Security Officer of the Year for D Company. Most recently, he received the Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Executive.

Before joining DSS, Matus graduated from the University of Maryland and the Inter-American Defense College. He holds a Master’s degree in Security and Hemispheric Defense from the University of Salvador, Buenos Aires, Argentina. More information about Carlos Matus is available at: https://www.state.gov/biographies/carlos-f-matus/

In 2016, we published  an submitted letter from a Diplomatic Security employee about the lack of diversity in the top ranks of the bureau leadership (see Dear @JohnKerry: One of Your Foggy Bottom Folks Is Asking — Is This Diversity?).   At that time, there were two senior positions held by female officers and one by an African-American at the bureau.
Today, the leadership at Diplomatic Security remains overwhelmingly male and white, with but ONE senior female official occupying the Deputy Assistant Secretary and Assistant Director Training Directorate. There are currently , three African Americans in its leadership positions including the assistant secretary. Given that Diplomatic Security is one of the top five bureaus with the highest number of sexual harassment complaints, you’d think that the bureau would work harder in growing the ranks of senior female officials in its leadership ranks.
It looks like that’s not happening anytime soon. So will Diplomatic Security ever appoint a senior female agent anywhere besides the International Programs Directorate or the Training Directorate? (see Inbox: A belief that there’s no place for a female in Diplomatic Security agent ranks especially at HTPs?).  As DSS Director? Or as a Principal Deputy? No?
Well, now, we’d like to know why. Why are female officials hard to find in the bureau’s senior leadership ranks?

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Related posts:

SFRC Senators Express “Concern” to @SecBlinken For @StateDept’s Handling of #HavanaSyndrome

 

In a letter to Secretary Blinken, Senators from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee writes We believe this threat deserves the highest level of attention from the State Department, and remain concerned that the State Department is not treating this crisis with the requisite senior-level attention that it requires. “
Also that the Senators continue to hear concerns that the Department is not sufficiently communicating with or responding to diplomats  who have been injured from these attacks. We are also concerned that the Department is insufficiently engaged in interagency efforts to find the cause of these attacks, identify those responsible, and develop a plan to hold them accountable. “
The Senators urged a replacement for Ambassador Spratlen imediately:
“We urge you to immediately announce a successor to Ambassador Spratlen to lead the Department’s Health Incident Response Task Force. Critically, this post must be a senior-level official that reports directly to you. It is incumbent that this individual has the experience to engage effectively with affected individuals and with the interagency. As you know, pending bipartisan legislation in the Senate would require the Secretary to designate an agency coordinator for AHIs who reports directly to you. We ask that you take this step now to demonstrate that the State Department does take this matter seriously, and is coordinating an appropriate agency-level response.”
Finally, the senators write, We wish to support the State Department and U.S. personnel through every means possible, and to support the Department in effectively addressing this national security threat. We look forward to receiving your response, and to your heightened engagement on this issue.”
The letter is available to read here.
The State Department has a response from the podium but we’ll save you the anguish of having to read the same thing all over again.
Just yesterday, we got another email in our inbox that says “Those DPB comments are utter bullshit.”
The spox did say that “… we want to make sure that those who have come forward are getting the care that they need. And I can give you quite a bit in terms of what our Bureau of Medical Services has done, including since January of this year, to ensure that those who come forward are getting that care.”
But …. but… how are they getting the care they need?
If folks can’t even get an email response from MED except for a form email?
At least there’s a form email, right?
But that feeling when you’re worried you may have a brain injury and you get a form email — apparently, that does not generate a warm feeling of WE’RE HERE FOR YOU, WE CARE.
The senators are right to remain concerned. Foggy Bottom typically responds to a few external pressures — the courts, the press, and yes, attentiveness from the Congress.

 

Related post:

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@StateDept Announces Return of Amb. Kenneth Merten as @USEmbassyHaiti Chargé d’Affaires

 

On September 23, following Ambassador Foote’s resignation as Special Envoy for Haiti, State/D Sherman did a damage control interview. When asked who will replace Daniel Foote, she responded:

“I don’t know that we need a replacement.  In part we had named a special envoy after the assassination of the president of Haiti in the aftermath of the horrible storms and earthquakes and all of the other plights that the Haitian people have had to face – the ongoing confrontation of poverty.  But we have an excellent ambassador in Haiti, Michele Sison, who is a nominee for a future post here in the United States.  We have tremendous faith in her and in her leadership.”

So less than a month after that interview, Ambassador Sison has apparently left Haiti.  Secretary Blinken has also announced the former Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten as Chargé d’Affaires at US Embassy Port-au-Prince:

MR PRICE: I am happy to reiterate what the Secretary said. We are grateful that Ken Merten, an experienced department hand, will be going to serve in Port-au-Prince as our chargé d’affaires. As you know, Ambassador Sison is – has been nominated for an important post here. She has returned to the United States. And we’re grateful that Ken Merten has accepted the ask that he go serve in this important role.

QUESTION: So does that mean that she’s, like, left?

MR PRICE: That’s right. That’s right.

QUESTION: So she’s back here?

MR PRICE: That’s correct.

Hookay. So who’s going to assume post as the Bureau of Global Talent Management where Ambassador Merten has been posted as “Senior Bureau Official”? His state.gov bio says he was appointed Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Global Talent Management in January 2021. He became Senior Bureau Official after DGHR Carol Perez was elevated as Acting M.

Related posts:

FOIA Case: Who are you calling a low-ranking government official?

Via WaPo v. SIGAR (Civil Action No. 18-2622 (ABJ)
On March 23, 2017, Craig Whitlock, a reporter from plaintiff Washington Post Company (the “Post”), submitted a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (“SIGAR”), the federal agency charged with auditing and supervising the U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Plaintiff sought records relating to SIGAR’s Lessons Learned Program (“LLP”), specifically the “full, unedited transcripts and complete audio recordings of all interviews conducted for the Lessons Learned program, regardless of whether they were labeled as ‘on the record,’ or if the interviewee was granted anonymity, or if they were cited in a particular report or not.”
Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit on November 14, 2018, and by June of 2019, SIGAR had processed the FOIA request and produced hundreds of responsive records. But it redacted some material and declined to produce other documents in full under various FOIA exemptions, and the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. The Court granted both motions in part and denied both in part, and it directed the defendant to provide additional information to justify withholdings that remained in dispute.
The September 30, 2021 order by District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson is available to read here:
Below is an excerpt on high ranking and low ranking government officials:
Defendant maintains that it properly withheld information from informants interviewed by SIGAR, see Def.’s Mem. at 15–18, including high and low-ranking government officials who could be classified as “public” officials. Id. at 21–28. Defendant’s declarant explained that “[t]here does not appear to be any definition in law or regulation of the term ‘high ranking’ as applied to government employees,” Fifth Hubbard Declaration ¶ 13, and so SIGAR created its own “objective standard”:
In an attempt to use a bright-line definition in the context of the lessons learned program and to minimize subjectivity, SIGAR concluded that a “high ranking” government employee was anyone appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. This includes all ambassadors, generals, and admirals, all cabinet secretaries and heads of agencies, and all deputy secretaries, under secretaries, and assistant secretaries. In addition, informants who were obviously public figures with policy-making or other independent authority could be “high ranking” government employees, e.g., an individual appointed to an “acting” high-ranking position, or a special envoy.
In its cross motion for summary judgment, plaintiff claims that defendant mischaracterized some high-ranking public officials as low-ranking public officials, Pl.’s Mem. at 12–14, and that it then improperly balanced their privacy interests against the public interest in the information. See id. at 15–19.
Plaintiff accurately points out that the privacy interest diminishes and public interest increases as an official’s rank increases, see Pl.’s Mem. at 12, quoting Stern v. FBI, 737 F.2d 84, 92 (D.C. Cir. 1984), and it takes issue with the designation of five individuals as “low-ranking” or “low level” employees:
• the former Senior Advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy;
• the former Senior Director for Afghanistan on the National Security Council;
• the Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan on the National Security Council staff;
• the former special assistant to NATO’s commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal; and
• a senior adviser to the State Department’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Pl.’s Mem. at 13–14.15 According to plaintiff, based in part on publicly available biographies, these individuals held more important posts than the Third Vaughn Index would indicate, and therefore, the representations are “suspect,” and defendant’s declaration and Vaughn Index are “in bad faith and should be given no weight.” Pl.’s Mem. at 14.
While one can argue that these individuals played roles of importance, plaintiff has not identified evidence in the record that would overcome the presumption of good faith that attaches to the declarations. All are senior advisers to high-level decisionmakers. So while these credentialed individuals may outrank many government employees, they were not high-ranking government officials with decision-making authority that can be likened to the agency itself.

 

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