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

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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
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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.

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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.

 

via reactiongifs.com’

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Diplomatic Security’s Basic Special Agent (BSAC) Training: Sexual Harassment Alert!

Posted: 2:21 pm PT
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In August 2016, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security and Director of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Bill Miller sent a message on sexual harassment to bureau employees.  We published the entire message here, Below is an excerpt of that 2016 statement:

Diplomatic Security takes sexual harassment extremely seriously – not only as an issue in the State Department, but also especially within our Bureau. 

In our response to questions from Diplopundit on this issue July 27, we noted that we find unacceptable any behavior that threatens people’s well-being in the workplace, or in any way diminishes someone’s professional capacity. 

Sexual harassment is an attack on the values this organization seeks to protect every day.  It compromises our charge to protect the workplace rights and ensure a safe environment for all Department employees.
[…]
As a law enforcement organization, we must hold ourselves to the highest standards of ethical conduct. As the leader of this organization, I hold every employee accountable to that standard and will not accept any less of them.

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are serious issues that affect both men and women. We condemn any comment that seeks to trivialize these activities or their impact on victims. 

Diplomatic Security personnel are made aware of their responsibilities as law enforcement officers and federal employees from the beginning of their employment with the Department.  DS employees receive recurring training on equal employment opportunity guidelines, prohibiting discriminatory practices, harassment in all its forms, and promotion of diversity and inclusiveness throughout their career. 

During the Basic Special Agent Course, Basic Regional Security Officer (RSO) and RSO advanced courses, individuals from the DS Victim’s Resource Advocacy Program provide classes on responding to sexual assault.

I am disappointed and disturbed to hear that anyone in our organization would be concerned about being stigmatized for coming forward to report sexual harassment or sexual assault.  It is unacceptable that we have employees of any gender who may not feel comfortable reporting such activities.

This week, we received an email from a new Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) agent detailing sexual language that female student-agents had to endure during Diplomatic Security’s Basic Special Agent Course (BSAC) training. The writer expressed concern over the “worrisome behavior by senior agents conducting the training” and the apparent tolerance by others witnessing such behavior.  The writer also wrote: “One senior female agent advised me that upon receipt of this complaint, DSS Management’s first response will likely be to try to figure out who the “complainer” is . . rather than dealing with the senior agents responsible for damaging the department’s reputation.”  Our corespondent suggests that if investigators outside of Diplomatic Security want to look into this, all they need to do is talk to the female agents in BSAC’s 137, 136, and 135.

The report below is what we can share publicly.  This writer like our other correspondents in the past, is also wary of retaliation.  We’ve referred to Special Agent #1 as SA#1 although we can certainly imagine a more colorful name. Special Agent #2 is also referred below as SA#2.

ALERT! ALERT! ALEEEEERT!

Received via email from a DSS Special Agent

-START-

Here is what I witnessed:

1) During protective training, I was assigned to a follow car that was “coached” by [Special Agent #1]. During our time with [SA#1], myself and the other females in the group had to listen to [SA#1] describe in detail how during his time in Baghdad he shaved his “balls” and had problems with them “sticking.” [SA#1] then felt it appropriate to detail a trip to his doctor where he had a consultation about erectile medication. [SA#1] also made repeated derogatory comments about his wife. My memory is a little fuzzy on those comments, but they were along the line of, “the old ball and chain, etc.”

I should mention that one of the female agents present is only 22 years old. So this young agent, in her first real job out of college had to sit (literally right next to [SA#1] in the back seat / physically touching him) and listen to [SA#1] , her supervisor, go on and on about his sticky balls in Baghdad and his erectile disfunction . . .i.e. he was discussing his penis.

2) The protection portion of the training was run by unit chief [Special Agent #2]. I personally was “creeped” out by [SA#2] during the entire training as he would try to flirt with the female students in a very unprofessional manner. [SA#2] really crossed the line, however, when for some reason he decided to ask one of the female students (now an agent) for their phone and proceeded to look through it. [SA#2] found the phone number or a text message in the female student-agent’s phone for one of the male contractors working on our final exercise, and texted “I miss you” to the contractor (from the female student/agent’s phone). The female student/agent was of course mortified as it appeared she was texting “I miss you” to the contractor. Is this appropriate behavior from a Unit Supervisor in the training division?!

[SA#2’s] inappropriate behavior continued when, during a re-test he decided to switch out a male student-agent from the position sitting next to him in the exercise to the above mentioned female student-agent. [SA#2] advised the entire BSAC that he was making the switch so he could have someone to “talk to.” He was supposed to be grading the re-test, but instead decided to use the time to creepily attempt to flirt with the female student-agent.

I am sure the above behavior by [SAs #1 and #2] has been repeated in multiple BSAC’s and I hope the department conducts a thorough investigation. Honestly, however, I am not so optimistic that things will change. I know Diplopundit has documented several such sexual harassment claims in the not so distant past, and yet, the above Supervisory SAs seemed to have no compunction in openly behaving this way in front of the 20 plus student-agents!

Where are the Director and the other senior members of DSS management?!! If they cannot protect/prevent a 21 year female agent from having to listen to Supervisory SAs like [SA#1 and SA#2] while she sits in training, how can DSS Senior Management be trusted to protect that same agent from harassment while she is serving in a high threat post in a 98% male RSO shop?!

The Director came to speak to our BSAC, and within 3 minutes of our “pep” talk he told us that if we had joined DSS to use it as a stepping stone we should “get the hell out.” That is a direct quote. One day on the job, and the Director comes in and says “get the hell out” in a pep talk. I would like to turn that around on the Director. If the senior leadership in DSS cannot prevent Supervisory Agents from “creeping out” all females in a BSAC class. Or prevent female student-agents from having to listen to Supervisory SA’s conducting BSAC training discuss their “shaved balls,” maybe it is time for the Director and others to “get the hell out” and leave the bureau in more capable hands?

-END-

The Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Henson v. City of Dundee, 682 F.2d 897, 902, 29 EPD ¶ 32,993 (11th Cir. 1982) notes the following:

Sexual harassment which creates a hostile or offensive environment for members of one sex is every bit the arbitrary barrier to sexual equality at the workplace that racial harassment is to racial equality. Surely, a requirement that a man or woman run a gauntlet of sexual abuse in return for the privilege of being allowed to work and made a living can be as demeaning and disconcerting as the harshest of racial epithets.

Female agents should not have to bear and tolerate this kind of language and offensive behavior for the privilege of being allowed to work at Diplomatic Security.

Why would anyone think this is appropriate, acceptable behavior?

And when this is done by individuals in supervisory ranks during training, how do you expect new employees to step up and report this to these same supervisors? The same supervisors, by the way, who can pass/fail employees during basic training. The same supervisors, by the way, who ought to be modeling the highest standards of ethical and professional conduct for agents-in-training.

While the EEOC policy guidance on sexual harassment notes that “sexual flirtation or innuendo, even vulgar language that is trivial or merely annoying, would probably not establish a hostile environment,” it also talks about the pervasiveness and pattern of behavior.

Putting aside our previous reports on harassment at Diplomatic Security for a moment — if we’re talking about three classes to start with here, what is that if not a pattern? And if this behavior was witnessed and tolerated by people and contractors who should know better, then Diplomatic Security has a systemic problem that no broadcast message from bureau officials can fix.

The Supreme Court said in Vinson that for sexual harassment to violate Title VII, it must be “sufficiently severe or pervasive ‘to alter the conditions of [the victim’s] employment and create an abusive working environment.'” 106 S. Ct. at 2406 (quoting Henson v. City of Dundee, 682 F.2d at 904. Since “hostile environment’ harassment takes a variety of forms, many factors may affect this determination, including: (1) whether the conduct was verbal or physical, or both; (2) how frequently it was repeated; (3) whether the conduct was hostile and patently offensive; (4) whether the alleged harasser was a co-worker or a supervisor; (5) whether the others joined in perpetrating the harassment; and (6) whether the harassment was directed at more than one individual.

In determining whether unwelcome sexual conduct rises to the level of a “hostile environment” in violation of Title VII, the central inquiry is whether the conduct “unreasonably interfer[es] with an individual’s work performance” or creates “an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.” 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11(a)(3). Thus, sexual flirtation or innuendo, even vulgar language that is trivial or merely annoying, would probably not establish a hostile environment.

Preventive actions per EEOC‘S Guidelines encourage employers to: “take all steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring, such as affirmatively raising the subject, expressing strong disapproval, developing appropriate sanctions, informing employees of their right to raise and how to raise the issue of harassment under Title VII, and developing methods to sensitize all concerned.”

Also 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11(f): An effective preventive program should include an explicit policy against sexual harassment that is clearly and regularly communicated to employees and effectively implemented. The employer should affirmatively raise the subject with all supervisory and non- supervisory employees, express strong disapproval, and explain the sanctions for harassment. The employer should also have a procedure for resolving sexual harassment complaints. The procedure should be designed to “encourage victims of harassment to come forward” and should not require a victim to complain first to the offending supervisor. See Vinson, 106 S. Ct. at 2408. It should ensure confidentiality as much as possible and provide effective remedies, including protection of victims and witnesses against retaliation.

All well and good, but in the real world we have these: Chien v. Kerry: DS Agent Files Suit For Race/Sex Discrimination, Hostile Work Environment, and RetaliationInbox: Female Diplomatic Security Agent Pens a Note on Sexual Harassment and Career SuicideAnother Concerned DS Agent Pens Response to Diplomatic Security’s Broadcast Message on Sexual Harassment.

The State Department’s sexual harassment policy is memorialized here.

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

Posted: 12:57 am  ET
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We received the following in our inbox on Friday, February 4, 2017:

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

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

really_cdn

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Trump EO Also Suspends Visa Interview Waivers – Expect Long Visa Wait Times, Again

Posted: 10:28 am  PT
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In 2012, then President Obama issued an Executive Order on Establishing Visa and Foreign Visitor Processing Goals and the Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness, which among other things, “ensure that 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applicants are interviewed within 3 weeks of receipt of application, recognizing that resource and security considerations and the need to ensure provision of consular services to U.S. citizens may dictate specific exceptions”.  The Obama EO directed a plan that “should also identify other appropriate measures that will enhance and expedite travel to and arrival in the United States by foreign nationals, consistent with national security requirements.” In 2012, an Interview Waiver Pilot Program (IWPP) was introduced for for low-risk visa applicants. It became was made permanent in 2014, and became the Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP).

According to congressional testimonies, there are 222 visa-issuing embassies and consulates where “highly-trained corps of consular officers and support staff process millions of visa applications each year, facilitating legitimate travel while protecting our borders.”  In FY2015, overseas posts issued over 10.8 million nonimmigrant visas. That number is only a partial picture of the workload as it does not include visa refusals, a number that is significantly higher than visa issuances.

Section 8 of President Trump’s Executive Order: Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States refers to the immediate suspension of visa interview waivers specifically, the VIWP, and imposes a requirement that all nonimmigrant visa applicants, with exceptions, undergo in-person interviews.

Sec . 8 . Visa Interview Security

(a) The Secretary of State shall immediately suspend the Visa Interview Waiver Program and ensure compliance with section 222 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1222, which requires that all individuals seeking a nonimmigrant visa undergo an in-person interview, subject to specific statutory exceptions.

(b)  To the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations, the Secretary of State shall immediately expand the Consular Fellows Program, including by substantially increasing the number of Fellows, lengthening or making permanent the period of service, and making language training at the Foreign Service Institute available to Fellows for assignment to posts outside of their area of core linguistic ability, to ensure that non-immigrant visa-interview wait times are not unduly affected.

We understand that the current Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP) was “carefully crafted”, and rolled out in consultation with the Congress. It was designed not/not to go back to pre-911 situation but to facilitate travel in cases of no discernable risk.

Here is what the Consular Affairs bureau told Congress:

Since 9/11, a risk-based approach grounded on greater and more effective domestic and international information sharing has become a key principle of visa processing policy.  This approach enables the United States to channel more resources toward the prevention of high-risk travel while simultaneously increasing the number of legitimate visitors arriving by land, air, and sea.  The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prescreening process for Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travelers, international information sharing arrangements, Global Entry, which expedites the movement of low-risk, frequent travelers who proceed directly to automated kiosks upon arrival in the United States, and interagency counterterrorism and eligibility checks are examples of how U.S. agencies can use information collected from visitors and/or governments in advance of travel to accomplish complimentary and mutually re-enforcing goals of preventing terrorists and serious criminals from traveling to the United States while facilitating the entry of legitimate visitors.

We asked the State Department about the suspension of the VIWP and its impact on visa operations. We were interested in the number of applicants who used the Visa Interview Visa Program for the last fiscal year.  In trying to get a sense of the impact of the new EO on visa operations, we also were interested on number of consular officers in visa sections worldwide.

Our question is in general staffing terms not specific to any posts, nonetheless, a State Department official on background declined to discuss staffing levels or the number of officers working at any embassy or consulate.  However, the SDO  did provided the following information:

The Executive Order suspends previously authorized portions of the Interview Waiver Program. The Interview Waiver Program will continue for certain diplomatic and official visa applicants from foreign governments and international organizations (categories: A-1, A-2, G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through -6, C-2 and C-3) applicants under the age of 14, or over the age of 79; and applicants who previously held a visa in the same category that expired less than 12 months prior to the new application. As always, a consular officer must require that any applicant appear for an in-person interview in any situation where information provided on the application or during the screening process indicates any reason for further questioning. All visa applications, including those cases above, for which the visa interview is waived, are subject to the same rigorous security screening.

Previously, applicants renewing their visas in the same category within 48 months of expiration were eligible for their interview to be waived, as were first-time Brazilian and Argentine applicants ages 14-15 and 66-79.

We don’t know what is the current number but in 2013, Brazilian visitors contributed $10.5 billion to the U.S. economy, a 13 percent increase from the prior year.

Background of the Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP)

In January 2012, the Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiated the two-year Interview Waiver Pilot Program (IWPP) to streamline processing for low-risk visa applicants.  The worldwide pilot program allows consular officers to waive in-person interviews for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants who were previously interviewed and thoroughly screened in conjunction with a prior visa application, and who are renewing a previous visa within four years of its expiration.  The pilot program also allows consular officers to waive interviews for qualified Brazilian applicants falling into specific age ranges, even when applying for visas for the first time.

All IWPP applications are thoroughly reviewed by a commissioned consular officer, with the applicant’s fingerprints, photograph, and biodata undergoing extensive database checks.  Consular officers have been directed to require an interview for any applicant who might otherwise qualify for the IWPP, if the application is not immediately approvable upon paper review, including if database checks reveal potential grounds of inadmissibility or other possible concerns.  State concluded an August 2013 validation study of the IWPP, which showed that B1/B2 visa issuances under the IWPP present no greater risk of overstay than interview-based B1/B2 visa issuances.

In 2013, State/CA’s congressional testimony indicates that “more than 90 percent of applicants worldwide were interviewed within three weeks of submitting their applications.”  This includes key markets such as China where consular officers were able to keep interview wait times to an average of five days while managing an average annual workload increase of 23 percent over the past three years.  In Brazil, consular officers were able to bring down wait times by 98 percent, from a high of 140 days in São Paulo, to just two days in September 2013, while also managing an eleven percent jump in annual workload between 2011 and 2013. These results were partially attributed to the VIWP:

The Department’s success is partially attributable to the introduction of secure, streamlined processes such as the Interview Waiver Pilot Program (IWPP), which allows consular officers to waive in-person interviews for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants who are renewing their visas, and whose biometric data we have on file.  IWPP is operational at more than 90 visa processing posts in more than 50 countries, and consular officers have already waived interviews for more than 500,000 of these low-risk visa applicants.  The pilot has been particularly successful in China, where it constitutes 30 percent of Mission China’s visa renewal workload.  Of course, these applicants are subject to all of the security checks conducted for any interviewed applicant.  State also concluded an August 2013 validation study of the IWPP, which showed that B1/B2 visa issuances under the IWPP present no greater risk of overstay than interview-based B1/B2 visa issuances.

One of the most effective ways we have to improve the efficiency of visa operations is to eliminate in-person interviews for low-risk travelers, while retaining all of the security checks that apply to every visa applicant.  Although the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires our consular officers to interview in-person all visa applicants aged 14 through 79, it also provides limited authority to waive interviews, including authority to waive for diplomatic and official applicants from foreign governments and for some repeat applicants.  We are utilizing technology and advanced fraud detection techniques to help us expand the pool of applicants for whom interviews can be waived under the Interview Waiver Program.  This allows us to focus resources on higher-risk visa applicants while facilitating travel for low-risk applicants.

We are working with our colleagues across the government to expand this successful program, which became permanent in January 2014.  In fiscal year 2013, we waived over 380,000 interviews, and a recent study showed that tourist and business visitor visa holders whose interviews were waived, all of whom were subject to the full scope of security checks, posed no greater risk for an overstay than those who were interviewed.  We are interested in explicit legislative authority to supplement the existing Interview Waiver Program by adding additional low-risk applicant groups such as citizens of Visa Waiver Program members applying for other types of visas such as student or work visas; continuing students moving to a higher level of education; non-U.S. citizen Global Entry and NEXUS trusted traveler program members; and holders of visas in other categories, such as students and workers, who wish to travel for tourism or business.  The Department is interested in working with Congress on legislation specifically authorizing the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to enhance our interview waiver programs.

Since the VIWP is available in China and India, and many other countries with high visa demand, and includes visitor/business (B1-B2) visas, student (F) visas, and temporary worker’s (H1-B) visas, the workload impact on consular sections will be significant.  As more applicants require interviews, more interview windows will be needed, more consular officers will be needed, and larger facilities would become necessary.

By shutting down the IVWP, the Trump EO immediately expands the number of applicants that require in-person interviews. Section 8 (b) of the Trump EO also “immediately expand” the Consular Fellows Program, while a separate EO imposed a federal hiring freeze. Even if hiring is allowed under the Consular Fellows program, training new limited noncareer employees cannot occur overnight.

According to CA official’s congressional testimony, in 2014, 75 million international visitors traveled to the United States, a seven percent increase over 2013; they spent over $220 billion.  “Tourism is America’s largest services export and one that can’t be outsourced.” See current key numbers on US tourism in infographic below.

In FY 2014, Consular Affairs also generated $3.6 billion in revenue, which supports all consular operations in the Department and provides border security-related funding to some interagency partners. The CA bureau is probably the only fully fee-funded operation in the State Department.  It collects and retains fees for certain visa and passport services pursuant to specific statutory authority.  According to congressional testimony, the current fee statutes allow the bureau to retain approximately 80 percent of the fees it collects, with the balance going to the Treasury, which then help fund 12 other arms of the USG supporting border protection/national security.

 

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