Office of Special Counsel on Political Inquiries/Political Discrimination During Reassignments

Posted: 12:45 pm PT

 

The Office of Special Counsel who has authority to investigate  5 U.S. Code § 2302 – Prohibited Personnel Practices says that political inquiries of or political discrimination against applicants for career federal jobs are prohibited under the law. Personnel action under this law includes not just appointments but also reassignments, promotions, and reemployments of federal employees. Keep this in your pocket.

Excerpt:

(a)

(1) For the purpose of this title, “prohibited personnel practice” means any action described in subsection (b).

(2) For the purpose of this section—

(A) “personnel action” means—

(i) an appointment;

(ii) a promotion;

(iii) an action under chapter 75 of this title or other disciplinary or corrective action;

(iv) a detail, transfer, or reassignment;

(v) a reinstatement;

(vi) a restoration;

(vii) a reemployment;

(viii) a performance evaluation under chapter 43 of this title or under title 38;

(ix) a decision concerning pay, benefits, or awards, or concerning education or training if the education or training may reasonably be expected to lead to an appointment, promotion, performance evaluation, or other action described in this subparagraph;

(x) a decision to order psychiatric testing or examination;

(xi) the implementation or enforcement of any nondisclosure policy, form, or agreement; and

(xii) any other significant change in duties, responsibilities, or working conditions; with respect to an employee in, or applicant for, a covered position in an agency, and in the case of an alleged prohibited personnel practice described in subsection (b)(8), an employee or applicant for employment in a Government corporation as defined in section 9101 of title 31;

(B) “covered position” means, with respect to any personnel action, any position in the competitive service, a career appointee position in the Senior Executive Service, or a position in the excepted service, but does not include any position which is, prior to the personnel action—

(i) excepted from the competitive service because of its confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character; or

(ii) excluded from the coverage of this section by the President based on a determination by the President that it is necessary and warranted by conditions of good administration;

(C) “agency” means an Executive agency and the Government Publishing Office, but does not include—

(i) a Government corporation, except in the case of an alleged prohibited personnel practice described under subsection (b)(8) or section 2302(b)(9)(A)(i), (B), (C), or (D);

(ii)

(I) the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the National Reconnaissance Office; and

(II) as determined by the President, any executive agency or unit thereof the principal function of which is the conduct of foreign intelligence or counterintelligence activities, provided that the determination be made prior to a personnel action; or

(iii) the Government Accountability Office; and

(D) “disclosure” means a formal or informal communication or transmission, but does not include a communication concerning policy decisions that lawfully exercise discretionary authority unless the employee or applicant providing the disclosure reasonably believes that the disclosure evidences—

(i) any violation of any law, rule, or regulation; or

(ii) gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.

(b) Any employee who has authority to take, direct others to take, recommend, or approve any personnel action, shall not, with respect to such authority—

(1) discriminate for or against any employee or applicant for employment

(A) on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, as prohibited under section 717 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000e–16);

(B) on the basis of age, as prohibited under sections 12 and 15 of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (29 U.S.C. 631, 633a);

(C) on the basis of sex, as prohibited under section 6(d) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C. 206(d));

(D) on the basis of handicapping condition, as prohibited under section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 791); or

(E) on the basis of marital status or political affiliation, as prohibited under any law, rule, or regulation;

(2) solicit or consider any recommendation or statement, oral or written, with respect to any individual who requests or is under consideration for any personnel action unless such recommendation or statement is based on the personal knowledge or records of the person furnishing it and consists of—

(A) an evaluation of the work performance, ability, aptitude, or general qualifications of such individual; or

(B) an evaluation of the character, loyalty, or suitability of such individual;

(3) coerce the political activity of any person (including the providing of any political contribution or service), or take any action against any employee or applicant for employment as a reprisal for the refusal of any person to engage in such political activity;

(4) deceive or willfully obstruct any person with respect to such person’s right to compete for employment;

(5) influence any person to withdraw from competition for any position for the purpose of improving or injuring the prospects of any other person for employment;

(6) grant any preference or advantage not authorized by law, rule, or regulation to any employee or applicant for employment (including defining the scope or manner of competition or the requirements for any position) for the purpose of improving or injuring the prospects of any particular person for employment;

(7) appoint, employ, promote, advance, or advocate for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement, in or to a civilian position any individual who is a relative (as defined in section 3110(a)(3) of this title) of such employee if such position is in the agency in which such employee is serving as a public official (as defined in section 3110(a)(2) of this title) or over which such employee exercises jurisdiction or control as such an official;

(8) take or fail to take, or threaten to take or fail to take, a personnel action with respect to any employee or applicant for employment because of—

(A) any disclosure of information by an employee or applicant which the employee or applicant reasonably believes evidences—

(i) any violation of any law, rule, or regulation, or

(ii) gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety,if such disclosure is not specifically prohibited by law and if such information is not specifically required by Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or the conduct of foreign affairs; or

(B) any disclosure to the Special Counsel, or to the Inspector General of an agency or another employee designated by the head of the agency to receive such disclosures, of information which the employee or applicant reasonably believes evidences—

(i) any violation (other than a violation of this section) of any law, rule, or regulation, or

(ii) gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety;

(9) take or fail to take, or threaten to take or fail to take, any personnel action against any employee or applicant for employment because of—

(A) the exercise of any appeal, complaint, or grievance right granted by any law, rule, or regulation—

(i) with regard to remedying a violation of paragraph (8); or

(ii) other than with regard to remedying a violation of paragraph (8);

(B) testifying for or otherwise lawfully assisting any individual in the exercise of any right referred to in subparagraph (A)(i) or (ii);

(C) cooperating with or disclosing information to the Inspector General (or any other component responsible for internal investigation or review) of an agency, or the Special Counsel, in accordance with applicable provisions of law; or

(D) refusing to obey an order that would require the individual to violate a law, rule, or regulation;

(10) discriminate for or against any employee or applicant for employment on the basis of conduct which does not adversely affect the performance of the employee or applicant or the performance of others; except that nothing in this paragraph shall prohibit an agency from taking into account in determining suitability or fitness any conviction of the employee or applicant for any crime under the laws of any State, of the District of Columbia, or of the United States;

(11)

(A) knowingly take, recommend, or approve any personnel action if the taking of such action would violate a veterans’ preference requirement; or

(B) knowingly fail to take, recommend, or approve any personnel action if the failure to take such action would violate a veterans’ preference requirement;

(12) take or fail to take any other personnel action if the taking of or failure to take such action violates any law, rule, or regulation implementing, or directly concerning, the merit system principles contained in section 2301 of this title;

(13) implement or enforce any nondisclosure policy, form, or agreement, if such policy, form, or agreement does not contain the following statement: “These provisions are consistent with and do not supersede, conflict with, or otherwise alter the employee obligations, rights, or liabilities created by existing statute or Executive order relating to (1) classified information, (2) communications to Congress, (3) the reporting to an Inspector General of a violation of any law, rule, or regulation, or mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, or (4) any other whistleblower protection. The definitions, requirements, obligations, rights, sanctions, and liabilities created by controlling Executive orders and statutory provisions are incorporated into this agreement and are controlling.”; or

(14) access the medical record of another employee or an applicant for employment as a part of, or otherwise in furtherance of, any conduct described in paragraphs (1) through (13).

This subsection shall not be construed to authorize the withholding of information from Congress or the taking of any personnel action against an employee who discloses information to Congress. For purposes of paragraph (8), (i) any presumption relating to the performance of a duty by an employee whose conduct is the subject of a disclosure as defined under subsection (a)(2)(D) may be rebutted by substantial evidence, and (ii) a determination as to whether an employee or applicant reasonably believes that such employee or applicant has disclosed information that evidences any violation of law, rule, regulation, gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety shall be made by determining whether a disinterested observer with knowledge of the essential facts known to and readily ascertainable by the employee or applicant could reasonably conclude that the actions of the Government evidence such violations, mismanagement, waste, abuse, or danger.

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Is Diplomatic Security, the State Department’s Law Enforcement Arm Trying to Break the Law?

Posted: 4:21 am ET
Updated: 10:37 am PST
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On October 4, we wrote about DS agents fleeing Diplomatic Security in droves for the U.S. Marshals Service.  We can now report that approximately 70 agents applied to move from Diplomatic Security to the U.S. Marshals Service and some 30 agents have received conditional offers. A State Department official on background shared with us a short-list of DS agents leaving the bureau for the U.S. Marshals Service. The list was reportedly compiled sometime this summer at the direction of the Diplomatic Security Front Office.  There is now an allegation that Diplomatic Security had asked the U.S. Marshals Service to stop accepting DS agents transfers.  Anecdotal evidence appears to indicate that the list is also being used by DS/IP in pre-assignment deliberations.  This comes amidst reports from sources that DSS Director Bill Miller addressed over 100 DSS agents during a brief in preparation for the UN General Assembly (UNGA), and allegedly stated that any DS agent who leaves for the U.S. Marshals would not be allowed back into the agency.

 

DS to Departing Agents: Bye, You Can’t Come Back! Seriously?

On the warning delivered at the UNGA brief, a State Department official who talked to us on background said: “I’m not sure how many people in that audience realized that just uttering those words is a prohibited personnel practice under 5 USC § 2302(b).”   

So we went and look up the actual statute: 5 U.S. Code § 2302 – Prohibited personnel practices

(b) Any employee who has authority to take, direct others to take, recommend, or approve any personnel action, shall not, with respect to such authority—

(4) deceive or willfully obstruct any person with respect to such person’s right to compete for employment;

(5) influence any person to withdraw from competition for any position for the purpose of improving or injuring the prospects of any other person for employment;

(10) discriminate for or against any employee or applicant for employment on the basis of conduct which does not adversely affect the performance of the employee or applicant or the performance of others; except that nothing in this paragraph shall prohibit an agency from taking into account in determining suitability or fitness any conviction of the employee or applicant for any crime under the laws of any State, of the District of Columbia, or of the United States;

Could the warning  — that any DSS agent who leaves for the U.S. Marshals would not be allowed back into the agency — influence an applicant for the USMS job to withdraw from competition for fear of retaliation?

If an agent in good standing departs the bureau for another federal job, and decides to come back later, can DS legally discriminate against that agent on the fact that he/she previously left the bureau for another agency?

Isn’t asking the U.S. Marshals Service to stop accepting DS agents transfers considered an obstruction to these agents’ right to compete for employment?

It looks like 5 U.S. Code § 2302 is quite clear about this. Interference with the hiring process of a federal employee is not permissible. Unless, Diplomatic Security is treating 5 U.S. Code § 2302 as a suggestion, and compliance as optional.

We understand that it has been a standard practice at Diplomatic Security that any agent who leaves in good standing is often welcomed back if they wished to return, with minor stipulations for reinstatement. We’re told that typically they would have three years to apply for reinstatement, subject to available vacancies, training requirements, and they may be required to take a hardship tour on the first new assignment upon reinstatement. We should note that 3 FAM 2130 actually says “Because recent familiarity with the Foreign Service is a valuable asset that distinguishes former members from new hires, candidates for reappointment may be considered if they have left the Service not longer than 5 years prior to the date on their reappointment request.”

If it is true — that the top law enforcement official at Diplomatic Security delivered a message not only contrary to practice but also against the law — wouldn’t this generate great concern and trepidation among the troops? Shouldn’t this alarm the top leadership at the State Department and in the Congress?

The State Department official on background told us that every year DS has some attrition to FBI, ATF, OIGs, etc.  but the fact that this lateral USMS announcement came out with the intent to hire experienced agents, at grade, and in significant numbers was “the perfect storm for the poor morale and lack of career control that plagues our mid-level agents.”  The conditional offers to the DS agents reportedly compose nearly one quarter of all offers sent out by the USMS.  We were told that no single agency is as widely represented in that offer pool as Diplomatic Security.

Which is probably embarrassing and all, as folks might start asking uncomfortable questions such as —what the heck is going on at Diplomatic Security these days?

Another source told us  this could have been a lot worse had the vacancy announcement lasted longer than 24 hours. The U.S. Marshals vacancy announcement actually opened on June 8, 2016 and closed on June 8, 2016.

So — we asked the Bureau about this reported bar the agents talk with a Q: PDAS reportedly told folks at UNGA that the departing agents would not be allowed to come back to DS. This sounds a lot like a retaliatory threat and would be a prohibited personnel practice under 5 USC § 2302(b).  After multiple emails and days of waiting, we finally got a non-response on October 12 from Diplomatic Security:

“Thank you for your query. We will have no additional comments on this.” 

Note that we have not received previous comments to these questions although we have sent multiple queries. Heaven knows we don’t expect perfection from our State Department but we do, however, expect it to be responsive and accountable for the reported actions of its top officials.

Look, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) is the security and law enforcement arm of the U.S. Department of State. Which means that an allegation that it is not following the law even in one area cannot stand with just “no comment.” It also cannot just be ignored. We got no clarification, no explanation, no denial.  Maybe State or DS will have comments for the Congressional Oversight folks?

The bureau has several responses we can think of:

#1.  Deny, deny, deny: hey, hey, this is a nothing-burger, go away.

FSprob_nothingtosee

 

#2. Admit in part/deny in part: there was an official brief, but this warning never happened; you’re barking up the wrong tree.

wrongtree

via giphy.com

#3. Aggrieved defense: We are a law enforcement agency, of course we follow the law; are you nuts?

areyounuts

via giphy.com

#4. Pride defense: We are the Diplomatic Security Service, we don’t make a habit of threatening anyone just because he/she wants to be like U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard!

#5. Ideal response not coming: We have no greater resource than our people. We have not, and we will not interfere with our employees right to compete for employment.

 GIF_shakinghead

Next: Why did Diplomatic Security compile a short-list of DS agents leaving for the U.S. Marshals Service?

 

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