Community Liaison Officers: The Glue That Helps Keep Embassy Communities Together

Posted: 1:14 am ET

 

The M. Juanita Guess Award is conferred by AFSA on a Community Liaison Officer who has demonstrated outstanding leadership, dedication, initiative or imagination in assisting the families of Americans serving at an overseas post.  Since 1995, Clements Worldwide has sponsored the M. Juanita Guess Award (named after Clements’ co-founder).

In 2016,  the award went to Sara Locke of U.S. Embassy Beirut, Lebanon with Berna Keen of U.S. Embassy Dhaka, Bangladesh as runner-up. Below via afsa.org:

Sara Locke | U.S. Embassy Beirut – 2016 M. Juanita Guess Award for Exemplary Performance by a Community Liaison Officer

Sara E. Locke is the recipient of this year’s M. Juanita Guess Award for Exemplary Performance by a Community Liaison Officer for her outstanding leadership, dedication, initiative and imagination in assisting the employees and family members of U.S. Embassy Beirut.

Embassy Beirut enthusiastically nominated Ms. Locke, stating: “There is probably no other person in the mission who receives as much unanimous, universal praise as Sara for her efforts in turning around the rapidly deteriorating morale at Embassy Beirut.” Working with members throughout the community, her leadership has dramatically improved morale through innovative programs and activities, re-establishing U.S. Embassy Beirut as a post actively sought by Foreign Service bidders. Her tireless efforts on behalf of employees and family members are absolutely impressive.

When Ms. Locke arrived at post in 2014, morale among embassy staff was plummeting and curtailments were increasing at an alarming rate. She recommended to the ambassador that post conduct a morale survey, and then coordinated closely with him and the regional psychiatrist (RMO/P) to figure out how the downward spiral could be reversed. She not only designed and conducted the first survey, but after a very insightful analysis, which she presented to the ambassador and deputy chief of mission, Ms. Locke created an “Action Committee” to respond to the complaints and suggestions.

As a result, many policies and practices on the compound were changed, and new innovative ideas were brought forward and implemented. Thanks to Ms. Locke’s efforts, the situation has improved so much that employees are now requesting extensions to their assignments, and positive responses to a recent morale survey are at an all-time high. The fact that community members now feel they are being heard has had a profoundly beneficial impact on life on a small compound at a high-threat post with very restrictive security requirements.

Ms. Locke has continued doing surveys every six months to measure changes and to solicit ideas on how to continue improving morale, but her influence extends beyond Beirut. Former U.S. Ambassador to Beirut David Hale (who had been in Beirut when Ms. Locke created the survey) wrote to Ms. Locke from his new post: “I owe you such a debt of gratitude and would appreciate any advice on how to maximize this product here,” he said, requesting that she share her thoughts and recommendations with his deputy chief of mission and management section.

Beirut is a challenging place in the best of circumstances: terrorist threats are real, security restrictions limit off-compound movements and permanent employees live and work in cramped, dilapidated facilities. The role of the CLO as an advocate for community members is absolutely critical, and Sara truly embraces it. She lobbies hard on behalf of family members to find rewarding jobs in the mission. She includes spouses in all aspects of embassy life, from social events to emergency preparations. She recently hosted a series of seminars on evacuation planning and community resources for the mission. She is the person many individuals turn to for support and guidance.

Just one example: immediately after a suicide bombing in downtown Beirut in November 2015, just a few miles from the embassy compound, Ms. Locke reached out to the embassy community to ensure accountability and reassure colleagues. When things quieted down, she developed a variety of innovative programs, trips and activities to allow employees to experience Beirut, always working closely with the embassy’s regional security section to stay within the constraints of strict security parameters. She helped increase the number of trips off compound to grocery stores, and then helped put in place a very popular weekend shopping shuttle. This change alone significantly improved morale and gave embassy employees a whole new perspective on life here; previously, only one trip off the compound per week was permitted.

Ms. Locke is extremely creative, constantly seeking out new entertainment venues and cultural events (concerts, museums, restaurants, wine tastings, food festivals), always coordinating well in advance with the regional security officer. She put together a long list of embassy recreational events, including scuba diving, hiking, skiing and snowshoeing. She also organizes a multitude of events for embassy families on the compound. She is an invaluable resource to everyone in the mission.

Berna Keen | U.S. Embassy Dhaka – 2016 M. Juanita Guess Award for Exemplary Performance by a Community Liaison Officer Runner-Up

Berna Keen, runner-up for this year’s M. Juanita Guess Award for Exemplary Performance by a Community Liaison Officer, is recognized as an exemplary CLO by her colleagues at U.S. Embassy Dhaka during what has been a turbulent period of terrorism and violence in Bangladesh. Her conscientious and compassionate approach to each and every member of the mission, the creativity she employs in bringing people together and her exceptional talent for organization has substantially increased morale at post.

A rash of “hartals,” violent political demonstrations, in 2015 crippled embassy operations in Dhaka. Ms. Keen experienced this violence firsthand when a vehicle she was riding in was hit with an explosive device. Incredibly, this only strengthened her commitment to her work. She communicated with everyone in the mission on shelter-in-place days, sending out ideas for activities to do with kids stuck indoors. She became a key voice on the Emergency Action Committee and created an EFM email list, subsequently added to the Global Address List, ensuring that security messages were received by everyone in the mission simultaneously.

With all of Dhaka on edge after a series of murders committed by Al-Qaida-allied fanatics and members of the so-called Islamic State group, embassy personnel were restricted to a two-square-mile area, could not walk outside and had a 10 o’clock curfew. School buses ridden by embassy children were accompanied by an armed police escort. Outside entertainment was off-limits to embassy personnel. In this tense environment, Ms. Keen brought the embassy community together, planning a staggering number of events—nearly 90 in 150 days—despite the fact that her office was understaffed.

Ranging from wine and cheese parties to pet playdates, she successfully provided people with an outlet for normal social activity. She brought the local market to the embassy, snagging pearl vendors, antique dealers and rug and clothing sellers to sell to the embassy community. Her continual reminders to the EAC on the importance of communication has kept the community well-informed and engaged during this trying time.

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Mr. Smith Writes to Washington, Goes to Bat For Local Staff in the Persian Gulf’s Unfair Labor Markets

Posted: 2:43 am ET
Updated: 10:17 am PT
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Via AFSA:

William R. Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent by a Mid-Career Officer – Jefferson Smith, U.S. Embassy Kuwait

Jefferson Smith receives this year’s William R. Rivkin Award for Constructive Dissent by a Mid-Career Officer for his commitment to combatting unfair labor practices and his push for compensation reform for locally employed (LE) staff at posts in the Persian Gulf.

While posted to Kuwait, Management Counselor Smith observed that the nine embassies and consulates in the Persian Gulf region are staffed almost exclusively by third-country nationals (TCNs) who did not enjoy the rights of citizens and earned wages and benefits so low that they could not support their families. U.S. Embassy Kuwait employs more than 200 TCN men and women from 27 different nationalities—and employs no Kuwaitis because the U.S. government does not pay enough to attract them.

Mr. Smith gathered data, framed his arguments and then brought his views to a regional management officers’ conference, where he found allies and organized a regionwide approach. He then wrote a detailed, thoughtful cable to Washington, signed by the six regional ambassadors, proposing that the department should define a new standard for compensating its LE staff at posts employing a majority of TCNs in unfair labor markets.

In short, Mr. Smith challenged the department to lead—not just follow—local practice in these markets. All of his preparation and action had an effect: The under secretary for management approved a Public Interest Determination (a policy exception) to create housing and education allowances for LE staff, and moved U.S. Embassy Kuwait to the top of the list for the next tranche of wage increases. The result was an average 22-percent salary increase in addition to the new allowances.

Mr. Smith’s success in winning a more just compensation package for the LE staff of U.S. Embassy Kuwait was an important milestone that will serve as a model as he and others continue to fight for a more equitable way to compensate employees under these conditions.

Mr. Smith has served in Kuwait since 2014. As a management-coned Foreign Service officer, Mr. Smith has had opportunities to serve in consular, economic, political and management functions in four regional bureaus and six overseas assignments, including Kingston, Dar es Salaam (twice), Yaoundé, Dublin and Kuwait.

The annual award is named after Ambassador William R. Rivkin (1919–1967) who served as ambassador to Luxembourg, Senegal, and Gambia in the 1960s.  He is the father of Charles Rivkin, the current U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, and the former U.S. Ambassador to France (2009-2013). Read A/S Rivkin’s Honoring Constructive Dissent: The William R. Rivkin Award on DipNote.

We should note that this is one of AFSA’s three dissent awards and is separate from the State Department “Dissent Channel.” The FAM precludes the use of the official Channel to address “non-policy issues (e.g., management or personnel issues that are not significantly related to substantive matters of policy).”

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AFSA Seeks a Policy Analyst to … Wait, Replace Its Advocacy and Govt Affairs Team?

Posted: 2:04 am ET

The American Foreign Service Association is looking for a full time policy analyst who will be “responsible for monitoring and analyzing legislation that directly impacts the Foreign Service, developing policy proposals and supporting related advocacy activities.”   The new policy analyst will report directly to the Director of Professional Policy Issues not the Director of Advocacy.

We understand that AFSA’s Director of Advocacy left the organization recently. A little earlier, its Senior Legislative Assistant also left AFSA. It looks like its Advocacy and Government Affairs department is now empty.   What happened?

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Full job announcement:

The American Foreign Service Association seeks a full-time Policy Analyst to join its Professional Policy Issues (PPI) Department in its Washington, D.C., headquarters office. Established in 1924, AFSA is the professional association and exclusive bargaining agent of the U.S. Foreign Service.

The Policy Analyst will be responsible for monitoring and analyzing legislation that directly impacts the Foreign Service, developing policy proposals and supporting related advocacy activities. The Policy Analyst will report directly to the Director of Professional Policy Issues and work with the AFSA President and other Governing Board officials, the Executive Director, and other AFSA departments. Essential duties and responsibilities include the following:

Tracking policy activity relevant to the Foreign Service, including elections, positions of various government officials and policymakers, legislation and other initiatives.

Reviewing and analyzing legislation, policy proposals, AFSA member priorities, reports, data sets and other relevant materials in order to formulate policy recommendations and strategies in support of AFSA’s strategic priorities.

Presenting findings and recommendations through written and oral communications to the AFSA Governing Board, senior leadership and other stakeholders.

Supporting AFSA’s advocacy team, comprised of distinguished career ambassadors, through logistical planning and preparing substantive briefing materials for meetings with policymakers.

Developing written materials on legislative issues, such as policy articles, public statements, testimony, issue briefs, policy memos, etc.

Respond to policy inquiries from policymakers, legislative staff, AFSA members and others.

Qualified candidates must have a bachelor’s degree in public policy, political science or other applicable field; and at least five years of relevant professional experience. Applicants must have spent time in the Foreign Service, possess a strong understanding of the Foreign Service human resources system and be familiar with legislative processes. Applicants with a legal background and experience in human resources management will be viewed favorably. The successful applicant will be a team player with strong organizational management, analytical and interpersonal skills, as well as demonstrable adeptness in writing and verbal communications. Must work well under tight deadlines and pressure.

The salary is $70,000 per year. AFSA offers an excellent benefits package and collegial working environment.

Please send a cover letter and resume with references to jobs@afsa.org by July 11, 2016, and indicate “Policy Analyst” in the subject line. http://www.afsa.org/jobs-afsa

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FSGB 2015 Annual Report: Grievance Processing Reduction — From 41 Weeks to 34 Weeks

Posted: 12:08 am ET

 

The Foreign Service Grievance Board has released its 2015 annual report. Excerpts below:

The FSGB, as the primary appeals tribunal for Foreign Service Officers, is in many cases the tribunal of last resort for a wide variety of disputes that arise in the context of employment in the Foreign Service. Although the Board’s decisions may be appealed to the Federal District Courts, such appeals are rare. Therefore, the Board holds sway over decisions that may not only adversely affect Foreign Service careers but that may be fatal to such careers.In its 2015 report, the FSGB says that it has “achieved significant progress in reducing the timelines from the inception of the appeal (or the filing of the grievance with the Board) to the issuance of the final decision. Taking into consideration certain anomalies (cases settled, withdrawn, etc.), the grievance processing time was reduced from an average of 41 weeks in 2014 to 34 weeks in 2015.”
[…]
The Board is constantly mindful that external trends and societal changes that affect the Foreign Service have a bearing on dispute resolution. In that regard, we have encouraged internal discussion and on occasion invited outside experts to make presentations on topics that we consider relevant to the Board’s core functions. For example, this past year the Board held a panel discussion on the impact of social media on diplomacy, including such issues as expectations of privacy and security of communications in a much more active cyber environment. We also invited four distinguished individuals to engage the Board in a wide-ranging discussion on disability and its impact on the Foreign Service. The discussion ranged from a report on what the Department of State is doing to provide accommodations for various employees who are disabled to the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD. These issues, along with a myriad of other conditions caused by service in stressful, dangerous and unhealthy posts abroad, have significant impact on behavior and performance and are often addressed by evolving laws and regulations; they are therefore relevant to the overall mission of the Board. My expectation is that the Board will continue to encourage discussion of issues that influence Foreign Service careers, and that will enlarge the Board’s understanding of the growing complexities in the practice of diplomacy and the legal framework that surrounds it.

Some of the notable 2015 FSGB cases:

  • One complex case arose from the circumstances following the September 11, 2012, attack on an American diplomatic post in Benghazi. The reviewing officer of a senior DS Agent was placed on administrative leave during the last four months of the rating period. No communication was allowed between the rated employee and reviewer during that time. Additionally, the rated employee was subsequently responsible for implementing many changes in procedures that had been in place under the reviewer who was placed on leave. The employee assumed that the person acting in the original reviewer’s stead would provide the reviewing statement for his EER. However, the Department determined that his former reviewer would write the reviewing statement, since that officer had not been formally reassigned and was familiar with grievant’s performance during most of the rating period. Grievant claimed that this decision, along with the Department’s decision to assign no reviewer for his subsequent Interim EER, contrary to grievant’s expectations, disadvantaged him in the highly competitive promotion process at the senior levels. The Board found that although the Department had contravened the regulations regarding reviewing officers, grievant, who had been recommended for performance pay, had not demonstrated actionable harm, and the grievance was denied. FSGB Case No. 2015-022. (This case does not appear to be available at fsgb.gov).
  • A second grievance illustrated an issue involving informal counseling that occurs with some frequency in cases that end up at the Board. Grievant, an untenured officer, challenged several EERs and a low ranking on a number of grounds, among them that he had not previously been counseled on deficiencies identified in his EERs. After a thorough review of the record, including contradictory statements by the employee and raters, the Board found that, with one exception, grievant had been counseled, albeit informally, but not in writing on the official counseling form as provided by Department regulations. In accordance with Board precedent, the Board found that such informal counseling was acceptable, although not the best practice. FSGB Case No. 2013-046. (PDF)
  • The appeal with the largest sum at stake was filed by the daughter of a deceased Foreign Service Officer. The Department sought to collect over $300,000 in annuity payments that it had continued to deposit to the account of the deceased’s wife (the grievant’s mother) for over a decade after the mother’s death. The grievant alleged that her mother had told her that the payments would be continued, and that she should use them for the benefit of her minor nephew, whose father had also died. When the Department requested repayment, grievant asked for a waiver. The Department denied the application for waiver on the basis that it (the agency) was prohibited by regulation from waiving repayment of overpayments made to an estate. The Board affirmed the Department’s findings. The grievant has appealed the decision to district court. (See Judicial Actions Involving Board Rulings, below.) FSGB Case No. 2014-018. (PDF)
  • In a second, unusual, case, the grievant was a Department employee who had filed the first Foreign Service grievance in 1972. At that time, he was due to be separated as a result of expiration of time in class, and would have received no retirement benefits. The grievant protested that the separation was really due to policy differences with his superiors. During the proceedings, grievant was separated and hired into a Civil Service position. He ultimately won the grievance, but was never reinstated in accordance with the remedies granted. Grievant requested that the Board negotiate a revised annuity based on the original grievance decision. The Board found that the passage of over four decades since the original grievance made the new grievance untimely, and it dismissed the case. FSGB Case No. 2014-042. (Also see FSGB Recognizes Grievant’s “Enduring Dissatisfaction” With @StateDept’s 40 Year Old Grievance Case — Where’s the Medal?)
  • A third case involved both a two-and-a-half-year delay in proposing discipline and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an issue that has arisen with increasing frequency in grievances. The grievant was a DS Agent who allegedly suffered from PTSD following an earlier military deployment to Iraq. The Department charged that grievant failed to inform it about the PTSD during the hiring process, and that he was taking prescription medication without notifying DS as required by the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM). The Board sustained both charges but did not sustain two of the specifications under one of the charges, and remanded to the Department to reconsider the penalty. The delay was not found to have harmed or prejudiced the grievant in this case. FSGB Case No. 2014-020 (PDF).
  • One case involving the appeal of an assignment was closed this year. Grievant had been an FS-02 officer for several years when he was voluntarily separated and transferred to an international organization. He remained at the international organization for seven years, where he held a senior position in his final years. Grievant contested his assignment to an FS-02 position when he returned to State. However, he had also filed a whistleblower reprisal complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) involving the same issues. Grievant withdrew his grievance appeal in order to pursue the OSC complaint. FSGB Case No. 2014-025. (Also see  How many people should be put through a wringer before, oh you know …. and  Secondments to international organizations and promotions? Here comes the boo!).

Some unresolved cases at the end of 2015:

  • Grievant, an untenured DS Agent who spoke fluent Chinese, applied for an upgraded security clearance pursuant to a pending assignment to China. In mid-2013 he was informed that his Top Secret clearance was being suspended based on issues surrounding his personal conduct and his foreign preference and influence. The Department also suspended his law enforcement duties and LEAP, assigning the Agent to unclassified duties. Although the Agent was recommended for tenure the same year, tenure was withheld pending resolution of the security issues, and he was low ranked. Grievant challenges these actions on procedural grounds. FSGB Case No. 2015-034.
  • USAID sought to suspend a Management Officer assigned to a conflict zone for negligent contracting actions that it alleged led to the costly collapse of a roof on a new USAID building. The collapse took place in 2009; discipline was proposed in early 2013. As of mid-2015, the agency had not yet issued a final decision on the discipline; however, it was withholding the grievant’s promotion, recommended in 2013, pending that decision. The grievant challenged the agency’s action as untimely and also claimed as a defense that his alleged negligence was due to his PTSD. The case appeared to be near an agreed resolution last year when a second investigation of the grievant halted negotiations between the parties. FSGB Case No. 2015-020.
  • An employee posted to South America with USAID stopped on his way home by a local bar/grocery store, where, he alleges, his drink was drugged by a young woman who joined him. He claims that he awoke the next morning in a strange place, feeling ill and disoriented, and found that $5,000 had been charged to his debit card. The grievant and his wife state that he continued to hallucinate and be paranoid for two days, supporting their conclusion that he had been drugged. He reported the incident to the RSO and was later recommended for separation for cause based on two charges: 1) Conduct Unbecoming, for having had commercial sex in violation of Department policy; and 2) Dishonesty, for having reported his credit cards stolen, when he still had them in his possession. FSGB Case No. 2015-048.  (This case does not appear to be available at fsgb.gov but a similar case is

    FSGB No. 2012-019 (PDF) which also involves a drugged IMO employee).

IMPLEMENTATION DISPUTES

During the past year the Board resolved two implementation disputes filed by AFSA.

  • The first involved the meaning of language in the 2013 Precepts governing the award of Meritorious Service Increases (MSIs). AFSA and the Department had for many years negotiated the Procedural Precepts concerning MSIs. The Precepts had historically called for awarding MSIs to all employees recommended by the Selection Boards, up to a set percentage of employees in each competitive class. Due to the sequester of funds government-wide in 2013, the negotiated language permitted withholding payment of the MSIs. When the sequester was lifted, the Department nevertheless continued to withhold payment of the awards. AFSA argued that refusal to pay at that point violated the terms of the Precepts to which they had agreed. The Board found in AFSA’s favor, based on the parties’ past practice. The Department has appealed this decision to the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board, which has not yet ruled. FSGB Case No. 2014-028. (PDF)
  • In the second implementation dispute, AFSA alleged that the Department had failed to hold negotiations and/or reach agreement with it on an Embassy London change in practice relating to the deductions Embassy London employees could make from the salaries of their own domestic employees when those employees were given room and board in embassy-provided housing. AFSA contended that the embassy’s unilateral change violated the FAM and the parties’ 1987 Framework Agreement. The Board found that the appeal was filed late and dismissed it for lack of timeliness. FSGB Case No. 2015-005. (PDF).

Read the full report below or read it online via fsgb.gov:

 

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Burn Bag: @StateDept announces its disappointment … 👀 OMG! It’s nice to feel valued!

 

Via Burn Bag:

[Last week] we got the word that the Department will have to pay out on the 2013 MSIs.  They lost once, appealed and the review board denied the appeal.

Unbelievably, they added this line to the cable “The Department is disappointed by the  [review board] decision.”

It’s nice to feel valued.

via reactiongifs.com

via reactiongifs.com

To read more about the implementation disputes governing the award of the 2013 Meritorious Service Increases (MSIs), check the files below. The Foreign Service Grievance Board found in AFSA’s favor last year. The Department appealed this decision to the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FLRA), which rendered its decision on April 20, 2016, see below:

 

Related files

  • AFSA v. State Department – Decision FSGB No. 2014-028  (PDF)
  • AFSA v. State Department – Timeliness FSGB No. 2015-006 (PDF)
  • AFSA v. State Department – Timeliness FSGB No. 2015-005 (PDF)

 

 

FS Promotion Self-Certification: Assigning Responsibility For Ensuring the Accuracy of Personnel Documents?

Posted: 3:20 am EDT

 

Last week, we posted a Burn Bag submission about ALDAC 16 State 27420 sent on Mar 15, 2016 on Foreign Service Promotion Eligibility Self-Certification and its alleged potential impact to future grievance (see Burn Bag: Foreign Service Promotion Eligibility Self-Certification and Potential Grievance). This self-certification is not/not related to the self-certification required by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

We’ve emailed Barbara Stephenson who was elected last year as AFSA president to inquire about this  but received no response.  We’ve also emailed Angie Bryan who was elected AFSA VP but only received an out of office response that she is on an extensive leave and is only at the office part-time.   This might be the fourth or fifth time we have requested information from these elected representatives and so far, we have only managed to get one courteous auto response from one professional machine.

So we had to find some other insider who could help us understand what’s going on here. Our source who is familiar with the matter but is speaking on background explained to us that the Bureau of Human Resources (State/HR) has been trying for sometime to  “make people aware of the actual requirements for promotion” and to “get them to take it seriously.” Apparently — and we didn’t know this — employees have theoretically been responsible for ensuring the accuracy of their personnel documents since at least 1974 (when the Privacy Act gave them the right to question that accuracy).

In any case, employees are reportedly required to certify that they have 1) completed the Leadership and Management Training requirement for their current grade; 2) reviewed the Career Development Program (CDP) appropriate for skill and grade; 3) reviewed their performance folder in their eOPF to ensure that all EERs (including military evaluations, if applicable), training reports, and awards (including approved awards for those who served on Active Military Duty) are included and any discipline documents scheduled for removal have been properly removed; 4) verified the accuracy of their information in their Employee Profile or correct the information  if incorrect; and 5) not been on Leave Without Pay (LWOP) for more than 8 months during the rating period.

We specifically asked about a potential future grievance and here is our source’s personal view:

It would certainly be reasonable to assume  that if you certified on the questionnaire that you had reviewed your file for accuracy and then later grieved claiming that your file were inaccurate, your self-certification might be evidence against you. On the other hand, I would also assume that if you demonstrated that you had tried to fix the error (e.g written to someone or used the online tool to open a help-desk ticket, and could demonstrate that it had not been corrected, that would be considered as well. The Department knows that it sometimes takes a while to fix things, and it must apply a reasonable person standard to the facts – e.g. if you had a current screen shot showing that the PAR [Performance Accountability Report] remained inaccurate, that would be pretty hard to ignore.
[…]
The situation would be harder if you had done nothing to correct the inaccuracy. The burden of proof in this type of grievance is always on the grievant to show that the Department, not the grievant, acted improperly. If the employee certified that he/she had reviewed his PAR and could not demonstrate having done something to correct an error, then clearly that burden of proof would be harder to meet. The Department could argue that the employee should have tried to fix it, and didn’t, ergo, the Department is not to blame.  Likewise if the employee never applied for required training, or never even bid on a position that would meet a CDP requirement.

The explanation seems reasonable to us but we can understand why this would also be a cause for concern for others. We appreciate the Foggy Bottom Nightingale for responding to our questions.  This is for information only and we urge employees to contact their elected representatives at AFSA if they have concerns about the self-certification requirements.  Also, if the Bureau of Human Resources (State/HR) is indeed trying to get employees to “buy-in” to the self-certification requirements, we expect that State/HR or DGHR would have staffers available to answer questions and address concerns from employees.

 

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Burn Bag: Foreign Service Promotion Eligibility Self-Certification and Potential Grievance

Via Burn Bag:

“ALDAC 16 State 27420 sent Mar 15, 2016 on Foreign Service Promotion Eligibility Self-Certification.  Recommend that employees pass on this.  If you complete the process and later discover an error, HR/G will use your electronic OK to deny your grievance.  The cable does not mention AFSA.”

via Doctor Who Tumblr

via Doctor Who Tumblr

Note that the anonymous “Burn Bag” submissions are not verified information. The submissions are provided “as-is” for informational purposes only. Submissions are edited for length as needed. While we typically do not/are not able to follow-up entries, we occasionally attempt to look into the subject of a submission, as we will in this case.  We hope to post something in a bit, email us if you want to share your thoughts.

 

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Congress Threatens to Compel Testimony of Ex-@StateDept Career Employee Over HRC’s Email Server

Posted: 3:34 am EDT

 

We have not heard this name publicly cited before, but Politico is reporting that John Bentel, a 39 veteran of the State Department has now been snared in the Clinton email server saga. Politico says that according to a letter it obtained, Mr. Bentel has declined to be interviewed by GOP staff on the Senate Judiciary and Homeland Security committees. The chairmen of both committees, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), are reportedly “threatening to consider other ways to compel” Mr.  Bentel to discuss the matter.  Excerpt:

A State Department staffer who oversaw security and technology issues for Hillary Clinton is refusing to answer Senate investigators’ questions about the former secretary of state’s use of a private email server — marking the second time an ex-State employee has declined to talk to lawmakers.

John Bentel, a now retired State employee who managed IT security issues for the top echelon at the department, declined to be interviewed by GOP staff on the Senate Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, according to a letter obtained by Politico.
[…]
The chairmen of both committees, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), are now threatening to consider other ways to compel him to discuss the matter.

“We are troubled by your refusal to engage with the committees even after repeated overtures of accommodation,” the letter to Bentel and his lawyer reads. “We need to speak with you. … We would, of course, prefer that you meet with us in a voluntary and informal manner, but we will consider other options if faced with a continuing lack of cooperation.”
[…]
On Dec. 4, 2015, Judiciary and Homeland investigators reached out to Bentel’s lawyer to schedule an interview. But Turk told them Bentel had already been asked about the matter when he sat before the House Benghazi Committee. Turk said Bentel told the committee he had “no memory of knowledge” of the server issue and there was “little point” in telling another committee the same thing, according to the letter.

But both Senate panels say Bentel may have been aware of the sever, noting that their investigators have been told that some of Bentel’s subordinates knew about the home setup: “It appears that you were an integral figure in the operations of the Executive Secretariat and that you would have particular and unique knowledge relevant to the committees’ inquiry. Indeed, Department personal have noted that your subordinates in the Executive Secretariat’s office, who reported directly to you, had knowledge of Secretary Clinton’s private email server, which leads one to conclude that you were likely made aware of the server.”

Read more:

There does not seem to be an end in sight for these investigations. Certainly not in 2016.  This is a potential conundrum for folks even in the periphery of the former secretary’s orbit.  One can show up to these interviews and become a story, or one can refused to show up for these interviews and still become a story. Beyond becoming the news of the day, click here for what happens if one refuses to testify.

The law firm, MayerBrown says that Congress can compel the production of documents and sworn testimony from almost anyone at almost any time.  It has a good primer (PDF) on the Congress’s investigative authority and subpoena power:

“Although there is no legal obligation that a party comply with such a request, it is typically in the responding party’s best interest to do so, except where privileged or other sensitive information is involved [snip]. These informal requests present an important first opportunity for the responding party to shape the views and perceptions of the committee staff. Congressional staff members are required to work on a wide range of issues. They will rely heavily on a responding party whom they view as trustworthy to educate them on the issues under investigation. In addition, cooperating with an initial request allows the responding party to demonstrate that it is compliant and respectful, favorably influencing the staff and potentially mitigating the risk that members will publicly attack the responding party for noncooperation.”

Even if there is no immediate possibility of getting snared in these investigations, it’s probably a good reminder to review one’s private Professional Liability Insurance coverage. PLI may not just offer coverage on administrative and disciplinary matters, but also congressional, OIG investigations and civil suits. Outside these controversies, there is one very good reason for a PLI.  The Kent Case demonstrates that while FSOs are considered on duty 24/7, the 24/7 rule “. . . only defines the FSO’s duty to the state–not the states duty to the FSO.”  The case is Kashin v Kent dating back to 1998, decided by the Appeals Court in August 2006, and we think, it’s a must read case for FS employees.

Note that State Department regulations allow the reimbursement of up to 50%, or $175, whichever is less of the PLI cost for eligible covered employees (see 3 FAM 3840 – pdf). Membership with AFSA also affords one legal services when needed.  Check with AFSA. Also check with HR for guidance on PLI coverage.

 

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AFSA Event: Spotting and Solving Ethical Dilemmas at Work, March 10, 11:30 a.m.

Posted: 12:02 am EDT

 

The AFSA Committee on Professionalism and Ethics (PEC) has put together a two hour inter-active workshop-presentation on “Spotting and Solving Ethical Dilemmas at Work” at AFSA headquarters, 2101 E St NW, from 11:30 to 2:30 p.m. on March 10 with Dr. Terry Newell.  It is a free workshop that is available to AFSA members but civil service colleagues are also encouraged to sign-up. Details from AFSA below:

AFSA welcomes back Dr. Terry Newell for a two hour inter-active workshop-presentation on “Spotting and Solving Ethical Dilemmas at Work” at AFSA headquarters, 2101 E St NW, from 11:30 to 2:30 p.m. on March 10. Sandwiches and beverages will be available to participants from 11:30 to 12. This is a unique opportunity to participate in an in-depth inter-active session on a timely issue – how to behave ethically when the rules are not enough. Please join us for this timely opportunity to learn how to think and act ethically in everyday work situations. Space is limited and RSVPs are required. Please click here to RSVP.

Why, despite hundreds of pages or ethics laws and annual ethics training, do we still have ethical problems in government? One answer is that we fail to spot ethical issues in everyday work situations because no laws seem to be broken. Another is that traditional approaches to ethics focus on following the rules, on doing “right” when the regulations tell you what is “wrong”. But lots of ethical issues are choices between two or more “rights” where there are no rules to guide us.

In this workshop we will focus on how to spot and resolve ethics issues in daily work situations using case studies, film clips and small group discussion to explore questions such as:

•What does ethics mean and how do you spot an ethics issue?

•What is the role of ‘value conflicts’ in ethical thinking?

•How can you avoid mental traps in addressing ethics challenges?

•How can you make a sound ethical decision and how can you put an ethical decision into practice, especially amidst opposition?  .

Dr. Newell spent nearly forty years in the federal government, including distinguished service in the U.S. Air Force, the Department of Education, and the Office of Personnel Management. Since leaving his last position as Dean of Faculty at the Federal Executive Institute, he has concentrated on writing and teaching about ethical leadership in government. His books include The Trusted Leader: Building the Relationships That Make Government Work; Statesmanship, Character and Leadership in America; and – most recently – To Serve with Honor: Doing the Right Thing in Government. This book is filled with case studies, checklists, and stories of exemplary public servants, offering a practical, readable road map for acting ethically.

Note that the event is from 11:30 to 2:30 p.m. (not 2:20 p.m. as previously announced) on March 10. Please click here to RSVP. Alternatively, you may RSVP to events@afsa.org.

 

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Burn Bag: When you’re only worthy of 20 of the 40 home leave days earned

Via Burn Bag:

“If leadership at one bigass consular post decides that ELOs can take no more than 20 days of home leave and cannot leave the standard 30 days before/after the estimated departure date from post, does HR flinch? Is this enough critical mass for AFSA to respond to our inquiries? My spouse has served his 24 months in a danger pay post but is only worthy of 20 of the 40 home leave days he has earned.”

idontgetitatall

 

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