False 360 Feedback Input in a Denial of Tenure Case Makes It to the Grievance Board

Posted: 3:32 am EDT
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We’ve written previously about the 360 degree feedback tool as practiced by the State Department, most recently last fall when a Speaking Out piece was published in the Foreign Service Journal urging that the Department reevaluate its use of the 360-degree reviews (see The State Dept’s 360 Degree Feedback as Placement Tool, and Probably, a Lawsuit Waiting to Happen).

In a recent Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) case, an FS-2 officer who works for USAID, appealed the denial of his grievance in which he challenged the denial of tenure by the 2014 Tenure Board, on the grounds that a principal document on which it based its decision was fatally flawed. And it includes an example of the 360 feedback gone wild.

The 2013 Tenure Board had deferred grievant for tenure consideration for one year. Grievant alleges that the recommendation for deferral was based mainly on anonymous, negative 360 degree input that was the polar opposite of grievant’s accumulated Appraisal Evaluation Forms (AEFs) and other, positive 360 degree information. When the 2014 Tenure Board rejected grievant for tenure, the Agency decided to terminate him. The centerpiece of his grievance and appeal is the 2014 Tenure Board’s alleged improper reliance upon a single, stale and flawed 2013 TEF. Furthermore, grievant complains that the Agency denied him substantive due process because it failed to provide him with reasonably specific and timely notice of his deficiencies and an opportunity to improve his job performance before the denial of tenure.

Grievant joined the Foreign Service in May 2009 as an FS-2 officer, as part of the USAID’s recruitment program to attract mid-career professionals under the Development Leadership Initiative (“DLI”).

The AEFs Before the Tenure Board.  The package of information considered by the 2013 Tenure Board included a collection of three AEFs, covering grievant’s performance from April 1, 2009 through March 31, 2010 , from April 1, 2010 through March 31, 2011 , and from April 1, 2011 through March 30, 2012. All three were uniformly positive, and they did not include any complaints that grievant was not performing adequately in any skill areas or that he was deficient in any work objective.
[…]
The 2013 TEF. This document is found in the record as Attachment J to grievant’s Appeal Submission. The author of this January 3, 2013 TEF (hereinafter REDACTED) was the Director of the agency’s REDACTED Office in USAID/Washington. He described himself as “the employee’s Office Director for five months,” indicating that he was evaluating grievant’s performance for the period of July 2, 2012 to December 19, 2012. He stated specifically that he “relied heavily on the 360 degree input provided by senior tenured officers who observed the employee’s performance in his two overseas assignments and his short stay in AID/W.” His reference to “360 degree input” denotes a certain type of information that a rater is permitted to obtain in preparation of an AEF. The use of 360 degree sources is also permissible in the preparation of a TEF.*3

In the Precepts for the Employee Evaluation Program (ADS Chapter 461) , “360 degree sources” are defined as: “Customers, peers, other managers, subordinates, and other individuals with whom or for whom an employee may have worked who can provide feedback, from their various perspectives, about the employee’s performance during any period of performance currently being evaluated.” The Precepts contain instructions for how a rater and rated employee must collaborate to select the particular 360 degree sources, some of whom are required to be solicited even if they do not respond.

According to the Record of Proceeding, at that time that the supervisor wrote the TEF, the Precepts did not explicitly direct or authorize the inclusion of 360 degree information in a TEF, although such authorization had become explicit by the time the 2014 Tenure Board made its decision. See ADS Chapter 414mad, 3.3.3 (“Responsible officials should use all appropriate sources of information in preparing the TEF, including AEFs, Appraisal Input Forms (AIFs), and 360 feedback.”).

The grievant argued that he was harmed by the underlying falsity of some of that information – compounding the impropriety. Grievant stated that some of the negative 360 comments were “literally false information that during the tenure process no one questioned or compared to the accurate facts as reflected in grievant’s OPF.”

Grievant identifies two examples of prejudicially false information that came to light:

One, grievant learned that one of the originally unnamed 360 degree sources was REDACTED who was a Civil Service supervisor of a technical office in the REDACTED in Washington, D.C. The underlying 360 degree source material that sent to was a memorandum of December 11, 2012. In it, he opined that grievant did not have the ability to function at the FS-01 level.  REDACTED added, “The fact that he has been curtailed in his first two overseas assignments in REDACTED and REDACTED by the Agency reinforces [sic] my recommendation.”9 The unchallenged information in the Record of Proceedings in this appeal shows that grievant left REDACTED  because he volunteered for a CPC (Critical Priority Country) assignment in REDACTED. Then, he left the subsequent assignment REDACTED at the end of one year, because one year was the standard length of time for a CPC assignment. Neither departure from post was involuntary or punitive in any way.

Two, another important false statement about grievant came from a 360 degree source later identified as REDACTED.  In an email of December 10, 2012 to he described himself as grievant’s “mentor” in REDACTED . In part, REDACTED stated,

He [grievant] taxed my experience and skills to the max until I finally requested that he be transferred out of our Mission. To cut to the quick, I would not recommend him for Tenuring [sic], I would rate him as negative on all of the FS Precepts for tenuring and I believe that the Agency would be better served employing [grievant] as a PSC. I did not write his AEF but I did have input and discussed his negative performance with his supervisor . . . . He refused to do rotations stating that he knew all about the Agency, our rules and regulations and how other tech and support offices functioned. . . . I had him removed.10

Grievant identifies several false statements about him in this TEF. One, grievant’s AEFs all confirmed that he completed whatever training rotations had been prescribed for him. […]  Moreover, comments reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of grievant’s status as a “mid-level” career candidate, who after the initial few weeks of orientation, was not subject to the types of rotations that applied to “entry-level” candidates. As mid-level, he was assumed to be knowledgeable in his field and was evaluated as a regular employee, not as a trainee – one who, according to his AEF’s, fully met those expectations.

Golly! You folks at USAID know this is wild, right?

Here is the decision of the FSGB: HELD: The denial of tenure by the 2014 Tenure Board was tainted by the flawed and falsely prejudicial 2013 Tenure Evaluation Form (TEF) and was also issued in violation of several Agency Precepts. The denial of tenure is reversed and the case remanded to the Agency with instructions to expunge the 2013 TEF, as well as the letters deferring and denying tenure, and to place grievant’s updated Official Personnel File (OPF) before the next Tenure Board.

Read the ROI of the case below:

 

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We’re Hosting a Q&A With FSO Mark D. Perry of CorridorRep.com — Saturday, July 18, 7pm EST

Posted: 2:23 pm EDT
Updated: 8:41 pm EDT
Updated: 12:43 pm EDT
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On July 7, I did a blogpost about CorridorRep.com, a website owned by Transparency In Government Performance, LLC. (See “Corridor Reputation” Gets a Makeover, And OMG …. It’s Now Online!)

CorridorRep.com’s site administrator is Foreign Service Officer Mark D. Perry. (Note: he is not the Mark Perry on LinkedIn). We requested a short bio and here is what he sent us:

Mark D. Perry is a consular-coned Foreign Service Officer who has served overseas in Monterrey, Cairo, and Lima.  He is currently working in a domestic assignment at the Buffalo Passport Agency.  He enjoys chocolate and looking for ways to make life better through the use of technology. Prior to joining the service, he worked in corporate HR for Tyco International, Ltd.

We cannot give you firsthand assessment of the site but readers writing this blog seems split between “this is great, yay!” or this is a terrible idea.

Mr. Perry told us via email that he has been thinking about this idea for years and floated it to a number of trusted friends. “Some said wow this is great and others said you are crazy,” he writes.

Another feedback we got is along the line of — hey, it only took a minute to figure out who runs this site; if he’s not good at protecting himself … what about my information?

We asked Mr. Perry about that and he explained that he created the LLC not to hide his identity, but to provide some additional legal protection.  That is true enough as LLC owners are protected from personal liability for business debts and claims.

We also asked about some readers’ concerns on data security, and here is his response:

I can understand the concerns about data security but I think the potential benefits outweigh these risks. Anything posted here could also be overheard in a cafe or sent by personal email to a friend or already on someone’s Facebook page. All of these are also easy targets for collection. This is nothing new. The site might make it marginally easier but I really do not see much risk in that aspect.

One reader asked about an “opt-out” so we also put that question to Mr. Perry.

[T]here really is not [a] way to prevent someone from  rating you. Preventing someone from being rated would be technically  close to impossible. Anyone can delete or edit the ratings they have  entered for others but could not delete ratings from others about  themselves. Anyone can choose not to visit the site so I guess that is one way one could opt out.

The site itself says that “you now have access to honest 360 reviews.”  One of the screencaps on the site is a section that says “Will work again with You” with the following options:  1) Supervisor, 2) Subordinate, 3) Colleague, 4) Other and 5) All.  We should note that the State Department has been using the 360 degree feedback for years primarily as a placement tool during the assignments process, and as far as we know, not as a developmental tool. See update below.

So think Yelp, Trip Advisor, Amazon and other online rating sites out there, except that the employee is now the rated brand/product.  Or perhaps the closest ones would be the student rating sites for teachers/professors performance.  Online reviews are popular and have grown prevalent in recent years.  There are even online reviews written by ex-convicts!  These online reviews have also grown controversial, of course, with some allegations of manipulation (and some real) orchestrated by companies to trick potential customers. The Harvard Business review last year, however notes that “voracious information-seeking has become deeply ingrained in many consumers, and we can envision no scenario in which they will see traditional marketing as a better provider of product information.”

In some ways, corridorrep.com is probably more like glassdoor.com, a career community that depends on everyone being able to share an inside look at a company they know.  Corridorrep.com depends on everyone being able to share an inside look about each other; it’s success certainly depends on the participation of enough individuals rating each other. Its stated goal is to have 5,000 reviews. Since we posted about the site, the online reviews have gone from 26 to 83, averaging about six reviews a day in the last 9 days.  That’s not a significant number at this time but if the number of posts continue at this rate, we estimate that the site will reach its goal in slightly over a couple of years.  The question now is how many of the Foreign Service’s 13,908 employees are willing to participate? Will Civil Service employees and Foreign Service Nationals, who all have state.gov emails also participate?

We understand that the site has become fairly controversial within the FS community. We are sure there are many more questions out there for corridorrep.com. We have offered to host a Q&A at our forum and Mr. Perry has accepted the invitation.  He will answer your questions on Saturday, July 18, 7pm EST. This forum is set as “open” so non-registered members of the forum and readers of the blog will be able to post questions of interest. You may post your questions ahead of time here: http://forums.diplopundit.net/?forum=457155.

See you at the forum!

Update:  We received the following nugget from an FSO with clarification on current use of 360 at State; our correspondent is not sure if there is a similar process for the Civil Service:

“State’s mandatory leadership and management training that everyone in the Foreign Service has to take each time they are promoted to the next level (at least for promotions to 02, 01 and into the SFS, not sure about below that) has a 360 component. You have to submit 10-15 names to review you anonymously, inlcuding subordinates, peers and bosses (the bosses are not anonymous). The results and comments are shared with you and the FSI instructors and I’ve found it quite useful. You also do one for yourself and seeing the similarities or differences between your self-image of your strengths and weaknesses and how others view you is very instructive.”

A Consular Officer also sent us the following details on the use of 360s at State/CA:

The Bureau of Consular Affairs also uses 360s as a development tool. Its CBAT program collects 360s for bidders and shares the report of the assessors’ input with the bidder. There are fewer questions than on the leadership training 360s mentioned above, but the CBAT does ask “would you work with this employee again?” and offers free text fields for assessors to say whatever they want. In general, the new (2 years old) CBAT process has been received pretty well, although I think some officers have been surprised by frank feedback.  And on the leadership training you mentioned, that is also open to Civil Service employees. I think it is mandatory at GS-13/14/15.

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Don’t Give Up On Us Baby: State Dept OIG Writes Back on Leadership and Management

— Domani Spero
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In the years that we’ve blogged about the State Department and the Foreign Service, we’ve covered the Office of Inspector General (OIG) quite a bit.  The complaints that reports to the OIG were ignored or forwarded to other parts of the bureaucracy are not new.  We have readers bending our ears about that specific issue for years.

Recently, we had a Burn Bag submission saying “The OIG can’t and won’t save us. They stress, the Bureaus, not the OIG, should be the “bad leadership police.”

That is troubling, yes?  To paraphrase the Dalai Lama, if people lose hope, that’s your real disaster. If employees start thinking and feeling that their institution do not care about them, how soon before the employees stop caring about their institution?

So we sent the following questions to the Office of Inspector General:

Is it true that complaints or allegations of bad leadership or mismanagement are forwarded by the OIG to the bureaus to handle?

Do you think that the bureaus are equipped to police their own ranks?

Who do you go to if you have complaints about mismanagement at the bureau level?

If top officials are not accountable for their bad leadership or mismanagement and as these officials are reassigned from one post to the next, doesn’t this build a negative impact on morale and ultimately on the institution?

I am trying to understand why the OIG, which is often, the last resort in many of these cases, does not think effective management and leadership is a priority as he embarks on his new tenure at State?

Yesterday, we received the following response:

 

Oops, excuse me, that’s Hutch’s 1977 smash-hit single. If you don’t remember him, that’s because I’m officially an oldster protected by ADEA.  And he’s that fellow from the original Starsky and Hutch.

 

Here’s the official OIG response, republished below in full:

Leadership and management are challenges for the Department and an oversight priority for the Office of Inspector General (OIG). IG Linick has discussed leadership and management issues directly with the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources. Each of the divisions within OIG play a role, often collaborating to hold the Department accountable for ineffective leadership and mismanagement.

OIG’s Office of Investigations (INV) learns of ineffective leadership or management through Hotline reports, from our Office of Inspections (ISP), and in the course of its own investigations. INV addresses complaints about Department leadership and management in a number of different ways. OIG investigators conduct initial reviews of mismanagement involving fraud, waste, abuse, administrative misconduct, or retaliation against whistleblowers, for example, and refer matters to the Department of Justice when there is evidence of possible criminal or civil violations.

There are, however, circumstances that prompt OIG to refer leadership and management concerns to the Department. If, for instance, a complainant’s allegations relate to a personnel matter, such as allegations that an official used abusive language with subordinates, OIG may notify appropriate Department officials about the alleged perpetrator so that they may take action. Thus, if such a complaint were about a COM or DCM, OIG would notify the relevant Assistant Secretary and Director General. Matters referred to the Department are monitored for appropriate follow-up. In other circumstances, when warranted, OIG will send investigators to look into the allegations directly.

OIG’s Office of Investigations notifies OIG inspectors of allegations or complaints about leadership and management at posts and bureaus to help ISP prioritize its work and to identify areas that should be assessed during formal inspections. OIG monitors compliance with its recommendations and brings them to the attention of Congress through formal and informal means. ISP evaluates the effectiveness of leadership and management in the course of its inspections, and it may move up scheduling of a post’s inspection when these types of concerns surface in survey results or by other means.

Over the years, ISP has made recommendations to the Department aimed at improving Department-wide leadership and management issues, such as recommendations that the Department develop directives on leadership or management principles, conduct 360-degree surveys on its leaders, enhance First And Second Tour (FAST) mentoring, and be more innovative in providing sustained leadership and management training to Foreign Service Officers throughout their careers. The Department has already adopted some of OIG’s major recommendations, such as updating the Foreign Affairs Manual to address leadership. It has also begun to conduct its first 360-degree survey of COMs.

 

We  appreciate State/OIG’s effort  to address our questions. We hope this is helpful to our readers. We will have a follow-up post later on.

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State/OIG Terminates Preparation of Report Cards for Ambassadors and Sr. Embassy Officials

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— Domani Spero

We heard recently that the State Department’s Office of Inspector General  no longer issue “report cards” for ambassadors and senior officials at inspected diplomatic missions. Apparently, State/OIG no longer prepare Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs) but that there are measures underway to collect input for the performance of chiefs of mission (COMs). One we’ve heard is evaluation of ambassadors by their deputy chiefs of missions and by desk officers.  (Achoooo! May we point out that the chief of mission is also the rating officer of the deputy chief of mission?) We could not verify those measures because DGHR is not responsive to email inquiries from this blog. However, we can confirm that the Inspector General Office stopped preparing Inspector’s Evaluation Reports in April 2013. We should note that the current OIG Steve Linick was nominated in June 2013 and did not come into office until September, five months after this change was put in place

The next question , of course is — was this an OIG decision and if so, why?  This is what we were told by State/OIG:

It was an OIG decision, in part based on the points mentioned below that we will continue to comment on executive direction in the course of each inspection in the published report, and because we have seen progress with implementation of the recommendations in the memo report mentioned before (the 360 reviews noted in our 2012 memo report http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/198810.pdf).

That memorandum report from State/Deputy OIG Harold Geisel to State/M Patrick Kennedy dated September 19, 2012 talks about Improving Leadership at Posts and Bureaus.  We’ve blogged about it here: State Dept’s Leadership and Mgt School Needs Some Leadership, And It’s Not Alone.  As an aside, the U.S. military is reported to be in various stages of ramping up efforts to implement 360-degrees feedback. According to Marine Corps Times, it is currently used as a self-developmental tool and not/not as a part of the formal system of performance evaluation. The report notes that “Even if there is interest among the brass to formalize the process, there may be big legal hurdles to expanding the 360-review process beyond a strictly confidential tool for self-awareness.” (Previous post on 360 feedback used as a bidding tool: Sexing up the 360-Degree Feedback, Revisited and for the heck of it, this one Earth Embassy Ganymede – Administrative Notice #04-011300).

We think that the termination of IER preparation by State/OIG is a step in the wrong direction.

The problem here is simple. Do we really expect to see the OIG reports to be included in the official personnel file  (OPF) used for promotion consideration?  Of course not.  Comments on senior officials performance on the executive direction portion of OIG reports will not go into their official personnel file.   Some of the more egregious sections in OIG reports, we don’t even get to read because they are politely Sharpied out.  Meanwhile, the persons referred to in these reports are sometimes quietly moved to other posts.  In one case, a DCM was allowed to curtail and landed as a principal officer at another post.  Previously, this DCM was a senior officer at country X where he/she is alleged to have “pushed a seasoned FSO he/she supervised so cruelly and relentlessly, that this FSO attempted suicide.” In another case, a senior management officer was allowed to serve out a remaining tour and moved to one of our more dysfunctional posts at the end of the world.   As if that post needed a bump on its misery factor.  We have typically called this personnel movement, the State Department’s Recycling Program.  Of which we were roundly scolded by one reader who suffered the brunt in one case. “To suggest the Dept.‘s recycling program merely ‘stinks’, is to insult Parisian taxis and slaughter house septic tanks, everywhere.” 

OIG’s FY 2012 inspections found that “while 75 percent of ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission, and principal officers are doing a good to excellent job, 25 percent have weaknesses that, in most cases, have a significant impact on the effectiveness and morale of their posts and certainly warrant intervention by the Department.” Then Deputy OIG Geisel was careful to point out that “The 75 percent/25 percent figures apply to the posts OIG inspected and not necessarily to the Department as a whole.”

And because State/OIG saw “progress” which is not detailed or publicly available, it is terminating the preparation of  IERs for ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission, and other senior officials.

Is that the kind of accountability that serves the public interest and the employees that work in these missions?

In fact, the Foreign Affairs Manual that dictates the preparation of the IERs for senior managers is still in the books and has not been deleted or superseded by new guidance:

3 FAM 2813.5-1 last updated on November 23, 2012 states that OIG Inspectors will prepare Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs) on senior officers (chiefs of mission, permanent chargés, deputy chiefs of mission, principal officers, Assistant Secretaries and deputy assistant secretaries) in connection with each post or bureau inspection. These IERs will be related directly to the officer’s management or supervision of the domestic unit or post abroad being inspected and will constitute a part of the independent review of the operation being evaluated. They will focus on the skills and abilities of rated officers to manage personnel, budgets, resources, and programs. Both career and noncareer officers will be evaluated.

Another section of that FAM cites additional reasons for the preparation of the IERs as follows:

1 FAM 055.6(f) last updated on July 17, 2013 says that IERs may be prepared, at the discretion of inspectors, on any employee for the reasons stated in 3 FAM 2813.5-2, including: (1) To record outstanding or substandard performance that the inspection team leader feels needs further documentation; or (2) To record performance observed during the inspection that noticeably differs from that reported in an employee’s evaluation report prepared by his or her regular supervisors.

What happens to these IERs when prepared by the OIG inspection teams?

“Upon receiving an IER from the inspection team, OIG/ISP designates a panel of three active or retired ambassadors who have been senior inspectors to review the IER. Once approved, the panel sends the IER to the Inspector General. In the case of a career employee, the Inspector General sends it with a memorandum to the Director General of the Foreign Service, requesting that it be placed in the rated officer’s official performance evaluation file. In the case of a noncareer employee, the Inspector General sends it to the Director General to review and send to the Deputy Secretary and White House Liaison Office to forward to the White House’s personnel office.”

So now, since the IERs are no longer prepared, poor performance will no longer be documented and will not appear in the rated officer’s official performance evaluation file. They will appear in OIG reports, which may or may not be redacted, but will not be included in the official personnel file.  The Promotion Boards will have no idea how senior officers manage our overseas missions when those officers names come up for promotion.

Do we really think this a good thing?

Also, the White House is now saved from the embarrassment of learning how some of its “highly qualified” political ambassadors show their deficiencies as stewards of the embassies and representatives of the United States abroad.

One less headache for the Press Secretary to worry about, yes?

The IERs typically are not released to the public. But some of the details occasionally leaks out when cases end up in the Foreign Service Grievance Board. We hope to have a separate blog post on that.

If you value accountability and the proper functioning of the service, you might consider  sending a love letter to State/OIG Steve Linick and asking him to reverse the prior OIG decision of terminating the preparation of IER reports.

Why?

Because … gummy bears!  All teeth, but no bite will have repercussions.

gummy-bears-o

Gummy Bears by Dentt42 via GIFsoup.com

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