FSGB: A Tandem Couple Gets a Penalty, You Guess It — For Being Married

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One of the cases highlighted in the recently released FSGB Annual Report for 2020 is one relating to finances involving  an FS-06 Office Management Specialist (OMS)  married to a Diplomatic Security Special Agent. Two FS employees married to each other is called a tandem couple.
In FSGB Case No. 2019-024, the Board overturned the Department’s application of several Standard Operating Procedures to grievant and her tandem spouse that denied her per diem and related travel benefits during a four-month period of mandatory language training in Washington, D.C. between her first and second assigned posts overseas. The Board found that in addition to internal inconsistencies, the Standard Operating Procedures applied by the Department conflicted with applicable federal statutes and regulations that otherwise governed grievant’s right to receive travel and per diem benefits.
FSGB Case No. 2019-024 Summary

Grievant was an untenured Foreign Service officer of the Department of State (“Department,” “agency”) who was part of a tandem couple. Grievant was directed to her first assignment overseas, at the end of which, she planned to take Home and Annual Leave, followed by sixteen weeks of mandatory language training at the Foreign Service Institute (“FSI”) in Washington, D.C., in advance of an onward assignment. Grievant’s husband, also a Foreign Service officer, requested and was granted Leave Without Pay (“LWOP”) in order to accompany grievant on her first tour. The Department considers LWOP on paper to be an assignment to Washington, D.C. At the end of the LWOP period, grievant’s husband planned to return to Washington to serve in a bridge assignment and to attend work-related training, followed by the same sixteen weeks of mandatory language training and the same onward assignment.

At the end of grievant’s first tour, pursuant to a Standard Operating Procedure (“SOP”), the agency assigned grievant’s husband to “long-term” training at FSI. Under federal statutes and agency regulations, an officer who is in long-term training is authorized to receive locality pay and a Home Service Transfer Allowance but not authorized to receive per diem or an allowance for meals and incidentals. An officer is entitled to per diem and related expenses if he or she is on temporary duty of six months or less.

Another agency SOP requires both members of a tandem couple to be in the same status. Therefore, the Department assigned grievant to “long-term” training at FSI to match her husband’s assignment. Grievant requested and was denied a temporary duty assignment for the duration of her training. She filed a grievance challenging the agency’s application of SOPs that denied her the right to receive federally authorized per diem and related benefits.

The Department denied the grievance, arguing that because grievant was not contending that any of the applied SOPs was contrary to law, regulation, or collective bargaining agreement, she was not legally allowed to challenge them. The Department argued further that the federal benefits statutes and regulations upon which grievant relied did not apply to her because of the operation of the agency SOPs that required tandem couples to be in the same assignment status. The Department maintained that grievant did not establish that any of the SOPs were misapplied.

The Board reviewed the primacy of the federal legislation and regulations versus the agency SOPs and concluded that the federal statutes and regulation were controlling. The Board concluded that under the applicable statutes and regulation, grievant was entitled to per diem and related benefits, in the absence of application of the SOPs. The Board further found that the SOPs were internally inconsistent and conflicted with federal law and, therefore, grievant’s challenge to them was grievable. The Board concluded that grievant proved by preponderant evidence that the SOPs that were applied in this instance improperly prevented her from receiving per diem and other benefits to which she was entitled. The grievance was therefore sustained and the Department was ordered to reimburse grievant for the benefits she should have received under federal law.
[…]
Grievant points out that she and her husband did not have a local residence in the Washington DC area, therefore, they were obligated to spend money on housing, meals and incidentals. As proof that the SOPs were erroneously applied to her family, grievant cites the fact that the Department spent more money assigning her to Washington, D.C. than if she had been detailed to FSI in a TDY capacity. She states that the Department delivered to her rental property in Washington, D.C. her household effects (“HHE”), her privately owned vehicle (“POV”), and items that had been in storage; unpacked their belongings; and then repacked them less than six months later. Had the Department allowed her to receive per diem while on short-term training, her husband would not have received HSTA and they would not have received the HHE, POV transportation, or storage shipment.

The Board concluded that grievant, a member of a tandem couple, proved by preponderant evidence that the Department of State improperly denied her per diem and related benefits when it applied several Standard Operating Procedures that were at times internally inconsistent and that conflicted with applicable federal statutes and regulations that otherwise governed grievant’s right to receive travel benefits during a period of sixteen weeks of language training between two overseas.
Grievant argued that the Department’s SOP A-11a discriminates against tandem couples by treating them as a single entity, rather than two separate employees, each with their own respective, individual entitlements. She argues that there is no law or existing regulation that mandates that both members of a tandem couple remain in the same assignment status.
Grievant explained the practical difficulties of the policy application when she wrote to HR/CDA:

Since HR/CDA does review on a case-by-case basis and exceptions have been granted in the past, we do kindly ask guidance on how to pursue having [the denial of our request for per diem] reviewed. …. [W]e have been told we may have to be assigned as a PCS [Permanent Change of Station] vs TDY. … The arbitrary interpretation of an SOP, rather than a ruling that is backed by the FAM, is going to create undue hardship on our family and unnecessary expenses for the State Department by having to receive all of our HHE, storage, POV, etc, only to have it packed back up again within 4 months. Shipping our HHE from to DC where it will be unpacked then repacked, then shipped again to is going to cost significantly more than having it held in temp storage in ELSO [European Logistical Support Office] then sent directly. I understand that we have the option to pay to keep our belongings in storage, but that forces us into a furnished apartment for 4 months. I contacted Oakwood, and a 2 bedroom apartment will cost over $23,000 for this time frame, which is just absurd. Even with DC locality and HSTA that is an extreme amount of money that I have to pay to attend required training.

Note that a hypothetical FS-06/1 employee earns approximately $42K. A 4-month rental of a furnished apartment at $23K would cost more than half that employee’s annual salary.
FSGB’s take on SOPs vs. Federal Statute:

“… where there is conflict between a state law and a federal one, the Supreme Court has stated that the federal statue must take effect. It follows, then, a fortiori, that where there is conflict between a unilaterally established agency procedure and a federal law or regulation, the procedure must equally give way to the operation of a federal statute “where it is impossible … to comply with both.” Id. Here, the Department could not comply with the federal per diem statutes, as grievant requested, solely because of its application of legally inferior SOPs. We conclude that this was clear error.”

16 Weeks is a “Long Term Assignment”, Who Knew?

“We further find that by mandating that grievant was on an assignment to long-term training in Washington, D.C., when she was in fact in training for no more than sixteen weeks, she did not have a home in Washington, she had not previously been assigned there, and she was mandated to take language training for her onward assignment overseas, the Department violated its own SOPs. Specifically, the Department violated the provision in SOP A-11a that, “The Department’s policy is to ensure that no advantage or disadvantage accrues to any employee through the assignment process on the grounds of marital status.” (Emphasis added). Application of this SOP put grievant at a clear disadvantage because she was not permitted to receive the benefits of the federal statutory per diem and M&IE benefits, solely because she was part of a tandem couple. The record is clear that had grievant not been married to her husband, she would have been entitled to seek a TDY assignment to Washington for her short-term training.

A tandem married couple penalty:

“… the Board finds that the purpose of the SOPs applied in this instance was to prevent any one employee from receiving duplicate benefits, such as per diem and locality pay, or employee benefits and family member benefits. Nothing in the SOPs suggests that the purpose was to prevent one employee from receiving certain benefits on the basis solely that the employee was married to another employee who received different benefits. If this were the case, then the procedures would advantage unmarried, but cohabiting, couples over tandem married couples.

Here’s the nutty part. When the FSGB became aware that AFSA was requesting a change in the very policies at issue in this case, it asked the Department about the proposed revision. The Department told FSGB:

Please find attached a copy of the revised SOP A-11a, which was implemented by the Department in December 2019 and is currently being announced within the Department. … As the revisions to SOP A-11a were implemented after [grievant’s] assignment in this case, the revisions have no impact on the application of the prior version of SOP A-11a to [her]. In her appeal, [grievant] contends that SOP A-11a should not have been applied to her and that she should have been placed on TDY status, that SOP A-11a was contrary to law, and that SOP A-11a discriminated based on marital status. The revision of SOP A-11a does not validate any of the arguments raised in [grievant’s] appeal.

Holymoly macaroni! It does, good heavens, it does validate all! Exclamation points added !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Seriously, how does one learn to think with such mental and linguistic contortions?
We could almost imagine the FSGB Board members shaking their heads in disbelief when it said:  “The Department concedes that the policy has changed officially, precisely as grievant requested in her case. Essentially, the Department argues that the revised policy should not be applied retroactively and, therefore, grievant’s appeal should be denied.”
FSGB cases cannot be read online without downloading the files.  Files are available here.

 


 

 

State/M Brian Bulatao Suspends All @StateDept Diversity and Inclusion Training Programs

 

On October 23, the State Department released an ALDAC cable on the “Department Implementation of Executive Order on Race and Sex Stereotyping.” The cable came with a message from the Under Secretary for Management and Pompeo BFF Brian Bulatao. 
The guidance says that  starting Friday, October 23, 2020, the Department is temporarily pausing all training programs related to diversity and inclusion in accordance with Executive Order (E.O.) 13950 of September 22, 2020 on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping. 
The president, who is undoubtably, the top promoter of divisiveness in this country has issued another dumpster fire here: Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping, September 22, 2020.
The State Department cable says that the “pause” will allow time for the Department and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to review program content.  “The Department is in regular communication with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and OPM to discuss the effective implementation of E.O. 13950 and to minimize the time period needed for review to ensure approved programs can resume in a timely fashion.” 
Apparently, the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) will “collect relevant training materials” for submission to OPM’s review “in a complete, all-inclusive submission. ” 
What the heck is that? They think FSI is hiding some of their um, training?
The cable also says that the “Department continues to welcome input from employees on how to improve diversity and inclusion efforts, including from leadership, existing and emerging bureau and post Diversity and Inclusion Councils, and Employee Affinity Groups.”
Wait … emerging bureau at State? Hmmn … somebody has a pet new bureau over there, huh?
Bulatao’s message says that the Department “leadership” will be requesting in a separate cable “all bureaus and overseas missions to review and confirm that any materials related to diversity and inclusion courses or programs are consistent with the Executive Order.”
The OMB Memorandum says in part “Agency employees and contractors are not to engage in divisive training of Federal workers. Noncompliance by continuing with prohibited training will result in consequences, which may include adverse action for Federal employees who violate the Order.”
Agencies must:
“Review these trainings to determine whether they teach, advocate, or promote the divisive concepts specified in the Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping ( e.g., that the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist or that an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive). Reviews of specific training curriculum materials can be supplemented by a broader keyword search of agency financial data and procurements for terms including, but not limited to:
      • “critical race theory,”
      • “white privilege,”
      • “intersectionality,”
      • “systemic racism,”
      • positionality,”
      • “racial humility,”
      • “unconscious bias”
When used in the context of diversity training, these terms may help to identify the type of training prohibited by the E.O. Searching for these key words without additional review does not satisfy the review requirements of the E.O.”
And contractors?
“Contractors who are found to have provided a training for agency employees that teaches, advocates, or promotes the divisive concepts specified in the E.O. in violation of the applicable contract will be considered for suspension and debarment procedures consistent with the E.O. and in accordance with the procedures set forth in Part 9 of the Federal Acquisition Regulation.”
See OPM – M-20-37 Ending Employee Trainings that Use Divisive Propaganda to Undermine the Principle of Fair and Equal Treatment for All (September 28, 2020) (4 Pages, 4,370 KB).
Holymoly macaroni!
If  the Federal government is about to revert to just calling ’em pranks, why should training be needed, luv?
Remember that time when FBI Agents Hung A Noose Over an African American DS Agent’s Workspace Twice, and the FBI Called It “Pranks”?

Burn Bag: Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC), a Logistical Nightmare For Students

Grumpy Agent writes:

“The Diplomatic Security Service’s brand new Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) on Fort Pickett, near Blackstone, Virginia is a disaster for those attending the academy. Incoming agents and those who have to attend advanced training should buckle up for a very rough ride due to a lack of planning, poor accommodations, and general haywire.

Most incoming students are housed at the Holiday Inn Express in Farmville, Virginia. Due to Covid-19, everyone is forced to remain at this little gem, conveniently located in the middle of an open field, for exactly two weeks. State calls it a “quarantine,” but no restrictions are enforced. So, the two-week lockdown is really just a waste of time and money for all parties involved. Since there is no way to keep anyone in their rooms, there is still the possibility that students could arrive at FASTC infected with Covid-19, begging the question: why bother with a fake isolation period?

Additionally, adults who are cooped up in a hotel for weeks on end with nothing to do seem to revert back to their college years of binge drinking and general debauchery. Class advisors at FASTC have openly complained that they have really gotten to know police officials in the rural one-cop town of Farmville.

Those who choose not to engage in such antics remain in their rooms with little to do but scan the 9 channels on the hotel-provided basic cable system. For an organization that purports to have a renewed focus on mental health and morale, this feels like a crisis in the making, particularly for those RSOs who are arriving from overseas posts and do not have personal transportation readily available. Walking anywhere from the hotel is not ideal unless you’re comfortable going for a stroll on the shoulder of a major highway.

As for food, take-out is really the only option, unless you’re comfortable visiting one of a few bar/restaurants that are no better than Applebees. The hotel provides no meal accommodations. If you’ll be there for a few months, expect to gain a little more than the “quarantine 15.” Also, if you have dietary restrictions, this place is not for you, unless fried chicken fingers are part of your preferred menu items.

Once your two-weeks of faux-quarantine are over, you’ll commute 45 – 60 minutes (one way) to FASTC. Students are required to shuttle themselves in government-issued vans each morning and evening. No more than five to a van (for Covid-19 safety reasons). However, many have reported cramming up to 10 in a van simply for convenience and split training locations.

The Foreign Affairs Security Training Center is a state of the art facility. The technology, instruction, resources, and training quality are unmatched by any agency and the Department should be commended for that. However, the logistical nightmare for the students must be addressed. This is unacceptable for those new to State but is probably tolerated because they don’t know any better. However, for those seasoned employees, this is categorically unsatisfactory. State and more specifically DS needs to get its act together soon and focus more on the employee rather than touting the perks of a brand new facility that may be more trouble than it’s worth.

DS already has retention and quality of life problems. Do we want to make it worse?”

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is one of the 13 bureaus and offices under the direct oversight and supervision of the Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao. 
The Senate-confirmed Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, Michael Evanoff resigned from his post in July 2020. It doesn’t look like a nominee has been announced to succeed Evanoff. According to state.gov, Todd J. Brown, a special agent and a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor was appointed to serve as Acting DS Assistant Secretary on August 1, 2020.  
 

FASTC Map

Map of the high-speed driving track at the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center, Blackstone, Va. (Department of State Photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) Opens in Blackstone, Virginia

 

On November 14, 2019, Diplomatic Security tweeted a video of the formal opening of the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) located in Blackstone, Virginia.
According to state.gov, the Department of State, working with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), conducted environmental studies at Fort Pickett, which showed that the site was suitable for FASTC. In 2015, GSA purchased property and secured land use agreements for approximately 1,400 acres of publicly held land. On February 25, 2016, construction began for the FASTC project.
The final FASTC construction update notes that Hensel Phelps is the general contractor responsible for building the third and final construction phase of FASTC. The venues for this phase include the High Speed Anti-Terrorism Driving Course (West), Explosive Simulation Alley, Venue Classroom buildings, Indoor/Outdoor Firing Range, Central Warehouse, Armory, Parking Area for Training Vehicles, and a Fitness Center. Turnover of the Contract 03 venues to the State Department reportedly began in summer 2019. The Armory, Warehouse, Mock Urban Driving Track and a Parking Area have already been turned over to State for their use according to the FASTC September newsletter.
According to Diplomatic Security, DSS will train roughly 10,000 students at FASTC, including DSS special agents, other Foreign Service personnel, other U.S. government employees assigned to U.S. embassies and consulates, and some foreign nationals.  The Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) course, required by Department of State personnel assigned to overseas posts was scheduled move to FASTC this year.
For more information about FASTC, visit https://www.state.gov/FASTC

Related posts:

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

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

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

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

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@StateDept’s Mandatory Harassment Training Overview (Video)

Posted: 3:17 am ET

 

Below is an unlisted video uploaded on February 2, 2018 by the “DMO Team” (?) that talks about the Mandatory Harassment Training ordered by Secretary Tillerson at the State Department. The presenter is Pamela Britton, an Attorney-Adviser from the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) at the State Department.

Around the 22 minute mark, the presenter talks about the reporting trends on harassment – saying that it has increased dramatically over the past four years FY2014 (235), FY2015 (320), FY2016 (365), FY2017 (483) but also notes that S/OCR “does not believe that the number of reports are equivalent to the number of actual behavior increasing” or that there’s “an uptick in poor behavior.”  They’re tying the increase in reporting “to the fact that people are now more informed of what to do, how to report, and what should be reported.” Supervisors are reportedly now better informed of their mandatory reporting requirement. Also that there is less tolerance for behavior that may have been tolerated 20 years ago. One more thing to note. Majority of reports are reportedly from overseas, and a significant number of alleged harassers are at the GS-14/FS-02 and higher ranking employees.

This video also cites two EEOC cases from DHS and the U.S. Navy. Whoever put this video together somehow forgot the sexual harassment case at FSI that S/OCR determined was not a sexual harassment case, but where the EEOC eventually found the State Department liable: @StateDept to Hold “Harassment in the Workplace” Session But First, Read This FSI Sexual Harassment Case). And here’s another one: Sexual Assault at a State Dept-Leased Apartment: If This Isn’t Abysmal Failure, What Is It?

 

According to the description posted with this video, on January 12, 2018, Secretary Tillerson mandated all American direct-hire employees receive harassment awareness training within 90 days (by April 12). The Bureau of Human Resources (HR) and the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) have made the following video available to ensure that all employees can comply. To ensure accountability with this requirement, all Assistant Secretaries, Chiefs of Mission, Charges, and Principal Officers must certify that all American, direct-hire employees under their supervision have received the training, via memo for domestic employees and front-channel cable for employees stationed abroad. In addition, the Foreign Service Institute, in coordination with S/OCR and HR, will reportedly develop an online harassment awareness-training course, which will be available later in 2018. All locally employed staff, personal services contractors and contractors will be held accountable for completing this on-line training by December 31, 2018.

The video posted says that for questions, please email SOCR_Direct@state.gov. If you would like to report an instance of harassment, please use the reporting link http://socr.state.sbu/OCR/Default.asp…. (links to Intranet site). If you do not have intranet access, folks may send an email to the aforementioned address or call 202-647-9295.

With regards to the harassment training, note that the EEOC in 2016 put out a Report of the Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace (June 2016), which find that much of the harassment training done over the last 30 years has been ineffective in preventing harassment. See https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment/report.cfm,

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After Congressional Queries, @StateDept to Mandate Sexual Harassment Training

Posted: 3:31 am ET

 

On January 11, Deputy Secretary Sullivan held a session “Harassment in the Workplace” at the State Department (see @StateDept to Hold “Harassment in the Workplace” Session But First, Read This FSI Sexual Harassment Case).  The following day, Secretary Tillerson delivered his remarks on values, also specifically addressing sexual harassment.

We understand that for a while there on January 12, Secretary Tillerson’s Conversation on the Value of Respect was reportedly the “tip of the day” when you log in to the Department’s OpenNet. That’s right, just mere hours after the President of the United States was reported to call certain countries “shitholes” during a meeting with lawmakers at the White House. Click here for reactions from different countries.

We’re not sure why both Deputy Secretary and the Secretary talked about sexual harassment two days in a row. Our most charitable take is that this is something the State Department cares very much, and the senior leadership would like to impress upon employees the  importance it places on sexual harassment (see our posts on sexual harassment here).  The less charitable take is that they’ve heard about folks talking to Congress about sexual harassment at the State Department, and they did not want to be perceived as not doing anything. (See Senators Seek Review/Analysis of @StateDept and @USAID Sexual Harassment and Assault DataCongress Seeks Info on @StateDept Senior Executives Who Are Subjects of Multiple ComplaintsInbox: “State Department absolutely deserves to have a trial by media”).

Of course, we also have our jaded take and we’re not alone on this — that Tillerson’s folks had atrocious timing, and did not want to seem like the Secretary was criticizing his boss on the day when the “shitholes” comment was  bouncing around the globe.

Fast-forward to February 12, Tillerson has now reportedly announced mandatory sexual harassment training for State Department employees. Reuters reports that the mandatory training is supposed to be completed by June 1:

“There is no form of disrespect for the individual that I can identify, anything more demeaning than for someone to suffer this kind of treatment,” he said. 

“It’s not OK if you’re seeing it happening and just look away. You must do something. You must notify someone. You must step in and intervene,” Tillerson added, speaking in Cairo to about 150 U.S. embassy staff outside the ambassador’s residence.

We’d be interested to know who provides the training, and what’s the source of the training material. For those who experienced sexual harassment first hand, we’d like to know if you think this mandatory training would help remedy the problem.

AND NOW THIS — Randy Rainbow’s ‘Stand By Your Man’ is quite memorable.

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Burn Bag: Does @StateDept Really Care About Leadership Training?

Via Burn Bag:

FSI runs Intermediate Leadership Training all year, with a new section starting more or less every other week. That means there are slots for about 350-400 participants a year. There are currently 3,400 FS-02 FSOs alone – and significantly more civil service officers eligible for the course. This makes it nearly impossible to get into training. Despite the fact that promoted officers cannot be paid at their new rate of pay until they have completed mandatory leadership training, it is difficult to convince supervisors to provide time off and travel budget resources to complete leadership training during an overseas tour, and most FSOs are left to fight for the training during a PCS. Concerns about delaying the training are often met with eye rolls and tossed-off platitudes about how promotions are slowing and it will be “so long” before the officer is actually up for promotion that there’s no need to expend resources. But the transition season sections are the first to fill. Right now, every scheduled Intermediate Leadership section is full, and, according to the FSI registrar, every section has a long waitlist. At this point, it would take more than 10 years to get every 02 officer through training the Department mandates.

Those of us trying to find a way to get required training in time to avoid losing salary money wonder if anyone in the Department is even cognizant of the problem — let alone seeking a solution. If the Department is unable to provide mandatory training, HR should either suspend the requirement or take steps to expand training availability.

Via reactiongifs.com

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Tillerson’s Staff Reduction Plan Threatens Gains in Bridging @StateDept Language Gaps

Posted: 4:03 am ET
Follow @Diplopundit

 

The ability to speak and read foreign languages is a key Foreign Service competency. All FS Officers (Generalists) and some FS Specialists are required to reach general professional (3/3) proficiency in at least one foreign language during their careers. In 2016, the State Department said that its  success in staffing positions with officers with the required language proficiency was due, in great part, to the increased resources received in the Diplomacy 3.0 initiative.

Last year, the agency developed a plan to continue to bridge its language gaps — to “continue to expand the training complement, as resources are made available to enhance foreign language skills.” The Department said that it’s language requirements “are much greater today than before 9/11″ but it also noted that the budget environment threatens to reduce the significant progress the Department has made. Even before Rex Tillerson happened to the State Department, the agency already warned last year that “without funds to hire staff above attrition, the Department is not likely to make significant progress in increasing the number of LDPs [language designated positions] filled with fully qualified officers.”

A good number of our readers already know about language training in the State Department, but we also have readers who are not familiar with it, so this part is an explainer. The State Department’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI) grouped languages into four broad categories based on their difficulty to learn:

Category I Languages include the most English-like or the easiest languages for native speakers of English to learn. Included in this category are the Romance languages, such as Spanish and Portuguese, as well as other Western European languages, such as Swedish and Dutch. On average, these languages require 24 to 30 weeks of full-time study to achieve the 3/3 proficiency level.

Category II Languages generally take 36 weeks of full-time study to achieve the 3/3 proficiency level. Included in this category are Indonesian, Swahili, and German, among others.

Category III Languages generally require 44 weeks of full-time study to achieve a 3/3. These languages are substantially harder to learn because they are less like English. Among the Category III languages are Hindi, Dari, Persian, Russian, and Urdu.

Category IV Languages are the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn. This category includes Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, which require training for roughly 88 weeks, including a ten-month language immersion in country, to obtain the general professional (3/3) proficiency level.

The general professional (3/3) proficiency level means being able to use the language with sufficient ability participate in most formal and informal discussion on practical, social, and professional topics. It means being able to conceptualize and hypothesize. An 0/0 in speaking/reading indicates only a cursory level knowledge of the language while a 5/5 proficiency means highly articulate, well-educated, native-speaker proficiency. If you want to send a diplomat to a radio station to better explain U.S. foreign policy to host country nationals, you don’t send somebody with “basic” language skills. If you send a DSS agent to a high threat post without appropriate language training, it can limit not just his/her communication with the local guard force but also situational awareness and his/her ability to protect the mission.

The State Department defines priority languages as languages that are of critical importance to U.S. foreign policy, languages that are experiencing severe shortages or staffing gaps, or present specific challenges in recruiting and training.  So for example, Mandarin Chinese, Dari, Farsi, Pashto, Hindi, Urdu, Korean, and Arabic—all are languages spoken in China, Iran, India, Korea, and throughout the Near East—and are considered priority languages.

It took the State Department 12 years to get from 303 to 475 Chinese Mandarin speakers. Persian-Iranian speakers increased from 14 in FY2003 to 44 in FY2015, an increase of 214.3%. Persian-Afghan speakers went from 12 in 2003 to 85 in 2015, a 608% increase. Hindi speakers went from 12 to 75 or a 525% increase. The State Department’s Arabic speakers increased 47% between 2003-2015, from 232 to 341. Let’s not forget Korean speakers, where State had 76 3/3 speakers in 2003 and 102 in 2015.

In 2013, State/OIG estimated training students to the 3/3 level in easier world languages such as Spanish can cost $105,000 while training students in hard languages such as Russian can cost $180,000. Training in super hard languages such as Chinese and Arabic can cost up to $480,000 per student.  Students learning super hard languages to the 3/3 level generally spend one year domestically at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and then a second year at an overseas training facility.  The OIG’s estimates were reportedly developed based on the FSI weekly tuition rate, the standard number of weeks for 3/3 raining, the salary of a midlevel FSO, benefits based on Congressional Budget Office  figures, and per diem based on 14FAM 575.3 and Federal Travel Regulations. Cost estimates for super-hard languages were developed using the above methodology for the  domestic portion of training and data provided byEmbassy Beijing and NEA and data in State’s standard overseas support cost model for the overseas  portion of language training.

Is we use the OIG cost estimate of $480K to train a student in super hard language, it means U.S. taxpayers already spent $48M to train 102 diplomats to speak Korean.  We don’t know who are planning to take the buyouts, but let’s say for the sake of argument that all 102 Korean speakers take Tillerson’s buyouts. That’s $48M down the drain. How about the $163M taxpayers already spent on 341 Arabic speakers? Or the $228M spent to train 475 Chinese Mandarin speakers? Or $84M already expended the last twelve years to train 175 Japanese speakers?

What happens when they leave? Does the State Department then hire contractors on an “as needed” basis to track and report the goings on in the Korean peninsula and everywhere else where the U.S is planning to shrink its presence?

It is important to underscore that these gains in the Foreign Service’s language capacity did not happen overnight. And when people leave, as projected in Mr. Tillerson’s reported plan, replenishing their ranks, skills and experience will not happen overnight. Congress can appropriate new funds in the future, of course, but there is no currency that can buy the U.S. time.

  Related post:

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Inbox: Female Contractor at DS Training Center Fired 3 Hours After Filing Harassment Complaint

Posted: 3:19 am ET
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In response to our June 20 post Diplomatic Security’s Basic Special Agent (BSAC) Training: Sexual Harassment Alert!, we received the following:

To add:

There are only two female DS Agents assigned to the DS Training Center.

There is currently an EEO suit being brought by a contract female instructor who was fired from the DS Training Center three hours after she submitted a harassment complaint. In the complaint, a male PSC co-worker frequently harassed the female instructor, and, given the timing of the termination, this is an egregious violation of whistleblower/EEO diversity/harassment free workplace regulations and policies. The male PSC employee is still employed and complaints about his dealings with female students and employees persist.

 

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