U.S. Consulate General Istanbul: Post On Evacuation Status With a “No Curtailment” Policy?

Posted: 1:49 am ET

 

In October 2016, the State Department updated its Travel Warning for Turkey to announce the mandatory departure of family members of employees assigned to the Consulate General in Istanbul. The announcement says that the Department of State made this decision “based on security information indicating extremist groups are continuing aggressive efforts to attack U.S. citizens in areas of Istanbul where they reside or frequent” but adds that “the Consulate General remains open and fully staffed.”

The mandatory evacuation order issued in October meant that family members departed Turkey for temporary housing typically in the Washington, D.C. area without their household effects or personal vehicles. And like all posts on mandatory evacuation, the children had to be pulled out from their schools and temporarily enrolled in local schools in the DC area. We are not sure how many family members were evacuated from post but the last data we’ve seen indicates that USCG Istanbul has approximately 80 direct-hire US employees.

By law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days so after the Under Secretary of State for Management (“M”) approves the evacuation status for post (authorized or ordered), the 180-day clock “begins ticking”. The order can be lifted at any time but if family members are not allowed to return to post, and no reassignment decision has been reached, the post status could change to “unaccompanied”.  For those not in the FS, that means, family members will not be allowed to return to post and incoming employees will no longer be allowed to bring their family members to their diplomatic assignment.

The latest evacuation order for USCG Istanbul could potentially last until April 2017 unless terminated earlier, or could be extended with a new order. Note that a previous evacuation order for US Mission Turkey was terminated in September 2016 and about five weeks later, the current evacuation order was issued. Who would have thought that Istanbul would become more restrictive than say, Beirut, where employees can still bring adult family members to post?

In any case, we understand that US Mission Turkey’s DCM had a meeting recently with the staff to let them know that post and HR/EX had agreed to halt all curtailments. Apparently, employees were told they cannot leave post until they have incoming replacements. But see — if they’re not allowed to send in their requests, or if the jobs of the curtailing employees are not listed anywhere, how will folks know about these job vacancies?  How will incoming replacements come about?  We understand that the hold placed on all curtailments apparently has “no stated expiration.”

We asked the State Department about this “no curtailment” decree specific to USCG Istanbul. Below is the full official response we received:

We cannot comment on the status of individual requests, but we can confirm that it is incorrect that a “no curtailments” policy is in effect in Mission Turkey. The Department adjudicates curtailment requests on a case by case basis, in line with established regulations and procedures. In doing so, we take into account the well-being and the individual circumstances of our employees and their family members, as well as the need to ensure sufficient staffing to undertake the important work of our diplomatic posts.

We should note that we did not inquire about individual curtailments; and our question was specific to Istanbul, and did not include Ankara or Adana. You are welcome to interpret “Mission Turkey” in the most convenient way, of course.

We’ve learned that this is not the first instance of a decree issued on specific posts. In one NEA post, the Front Office reportedly made it known that it “would not accept” curtailment requests until further down the “ordered departure” road.  During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Director General was also reportedly asked to implement a policy that no curtailment requests from those affected posts would be allowed until senior management decided it was “appropriate.”

We can see where the State Department is coming from; it certainly would not like to see mass curtailments from staffers but  — there is no authority in the books that prohibit curtailment requests. And as somebody familiar with the bureau puts it, “HR knows this damn well.”  

Curtailment is the shortening of an employee’s tour of duty from his or her assignment.  It may include the employee’s immediate departure from a bureau or post.  The statutory authority for curtailment is found in the Foreign Service Act of 1980.

In the Foreign Affairs Manual, 3 FAM 2443.1 allows an employee assigned abroad to request curtailment of his or her tour of duty for any reason.  The regs say that the employee should submit a written request for curtailment that explains the reasons for the request to the appropriate assignment panel through his or her counseling and assignment officer. Post management must state its support for or opposition to the employee’s request.  The Foreign Affairs Manual makes clear that a curtailment is an assignment action, not a disciplinary one.

The FAM provides any employee the right to request a curtailment for any reason at any time, regardless of where the employees are serving.  It’s been pointed out to us that this does not/not mean that the assignment panel will approve the request. We understand that the panel’s decision typically depends on the argument made by the CDO (Career Development Office) at panel and whether ECS (Employee Consultation Service) strongly supports the “compassionate curtailment.”

A source familiar with the workings of the bureau observed that if post is refusing to send out the curtailment request via cable, the employee needs to connect with his/her CDO and go the DGDirect route. If necessary, employees can also go to AFSA, as there are precedence for this in prior attempts to declare no curtailment decrees at other posts under “ordered departure” or where there were outbreaks of diseases (Ebola, Zika).

Note that 3 FAM 2446 provides the Director General of the Foreign Service the authority to propose curtailment from any assignment sua sponteAccording to the FAM, the Director General may overrule the assignment panel decision to curtail or not to curtail if the Director General determines that to do so is in the best interests of the Foreign Service or the post.

Related posts:

 

 

Ring in 2017 By Gutting the Ethics Office: Here and There

Posted: 1:01 pm ET

 

Last night, House Republicans voted quietly to gut their own independent ethics watchdog, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). House Republicans adopted a proposal by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to put the Office of Congressional Ethics under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee. According to Politico, under the Goodlatte proposal, the OCE would be renamed the “Office of Congressional Complaint Review,” citing a summary of the House rules amendment obtained by POLITICO. It “places the office under the oversight of the Committee on Ethics.”  The provision would “provide protection against disclosures to the public or other government entities,” essentially sealing accusations against lawmakers. Currently those investigations are made public several months after the OCE refers the matter to the Ethics panel.  After an uproar, House Republican leaders have now reportedly pulled the Goodlatte amendment on OCE changes and the ethics office rules won’t change.

A related item —

Last month we asked what happened to AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics?  Retired Ambassador Charles A. Ray who was the first chair of AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics (‘PEC’) offered an answer. It looks like eliminating the PEC was also quietly done.

After we published the blogpost, one of our readers pointed us to a “Professionalism in the U.S. Government” talk with Dr. Don Snider posted on YouTube.  On May 29, 2014, AFSA welcomed Dr. Don Snider of the Strategic Studies Institute to AFSA headquarters to discuss “Professionalism in the U.S. Government”. Dr. Snider used his experiences and expertise as a widely respected scholar and speaker on issues of professionalism writ large, to pose the question of how systems of professionalism affect the U.S. government and whether the Foreign Service might be able to learn some lessons on this subject from the U.S. Army. Have a look.

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Whatever happened to AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics?

Posted: 11:03 am PT

 

We received the following note from retired Ambassador Charles A. Ray who was the first chair of AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics (or simply ‘PEC’). Ambassador Ray previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe and Cambodia. He is also a retired U.S. Army officer who was decorated twice for his actions in combat during the Vietnam War, and later served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs.  We understand that there was a brief mention in the Foreign Service Journal (Board Meeting Notes) to the effect that the PEC was not continued, but that its work products would be retained for future use.  We have not been able to locate those work products on the AFSA web site even on its “professionalism and ethics” page.

We are republishing Ambassador Ray’s letter in full. You are welcome to add your thoughts in the comment section.

In your Dec. 13, 2016 post, @StateDept Launches Inaugural Leadership Day – Who’s Missing? (Updated), you end with the following question, ‘Also, hey, whatever happened to AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics?’

This is an excellent question, and one that I’m sure many of your readers would like an answer to, so if I may, I’d like to offer an answer.

Let me begin first with some background. The concept of an AFSA committee to deal with issues of professionalism and ethics began, I believe, in 2010, under the leadership of then AFSA president, Susan Johnson. The committee was officially formed in the Fall of 2012, and I, having just returned from my final overseas tour as ambassador to Zimbabwe, and retired from the Foreign Service, was asked to be the committee’s first chair.

First known as the Professionalism and Ethics Committee (PEC), it was subsequently named the Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics, but we kept the PEC acronym because it was familiar to people. The stated purpose of the committee was to enhance the professional nature and status of the Foreign Service, officers and specialists, across all the foreign affairs agencies.

One of the first things we did was conduct a survey of attitudes about ethics and professionalism. With the assistance of the Institute for Global Ethics (IGE), we focused initially on the culture of the Foreign Service. What we discovered was interesting, and somewhat disturbing. While most Foreign Service personnel consider the work we do a ‘profession,’ our survey found that very few could actually articulate just what constitutes a profession. Our analysis of the survey results showed that the Foreign Service was fragmented into ‘cones and interest groups,’ lacking a core institutional culture or identity. While many respondents could identify values essential to an effective Foreign Service, there was no common acceptance or clear understanding of what the core values of the Foreign Service institution are. In addition, whenever discussions of the Foreign Service arose, too often, they centered mainly on the Department of State, ignoring the other foreign affairs agencies to which Foreign Service personnel are assigned.

Once we recognized this, in 2013, the committee began a comprehensive survey to determine what most Foreign Service personnel thought of as core institutional values (or what the institution’s core values should be). We also requested feedback from AFSA members on a memo on management and leadership issues that the IG sent to the DG, which resulted in over fifty comments and examples from the field of unprofessional and unethical behavior at posts abroad. The results of our survey and subsequent focus groups were posted on AFSA’s web site (http://afsa.org/), but I couldn’t find them during a recent search of the site. Unfortunately, the AFSANET message summarizing the survey and our other research was not sent out to members by the AFSA Board that took office in 2013.

We also began the task of developing a draft code of professional conduct for the Foreign Service. Our aim was not to replace the extensive compliance codes that already exist in the various agencies, but to create a sense of institutional identity for Foreign Service Personnel; to develop an aspirational code of behavior focused not on what ‘not’ to do, but what we ‘ought’ to aspire to be. This was an exciting, but daunting, task that came to an end in the summer of 2016 when the current AFSA Governing Board decided that the PEC had achieved its aims and was, therefore, abolished.

The draft code of conduct, however, was not the only initiative that was pushed aside. In addition to a values-based culture as a foundation to a professional Foreign Service, we also identified the need for career-long professional education (as opposed to technical training or trade-craft), and had begun working with FSI and other organizations in that regard. One of the products of that effort was a white paper, ‘A Professional Education for a Professional Foreign Service,’ which was approved by AFSA in 2014 and shared with the QDDR Office and FSI. Another PEC initiative was the Expert Speakers Forum, which brought experienced speakers on leadership, professionalism, ethics, government effectiveness, and diplomatic art and practice to the AFSA membership.

In the summer of 2016, the PEC was asked to nominate new members, and then in a parliamentary move that was never made clear, the AFSA Governing Board decided that the PEC had reached the end of its mandate, and the committee was abolished. The explanation for this decision was never clear to me, nor do I think it was ever made clear to the membership—in fact, I think that it’s only the absence of the PEC in the list of committees on AFSA’s web site that informs the membership that the committee no longer exists. As far as I can establish, AFSA did not consult its membership about this decision, something I feel, as a member, should be done considering the interest the membership showed in the PEC and its activities.

Since it’s unlikely that AFSA will poll members about this, it might be interesting to hear what your readers have to say.

 

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@StateDept Launches Inaugural Leadership Day — Who’s Missing? (Updated)

Posted: 1:07 am ET
Updated: 8:44 pm PT

 

In 2014, we saw a FAM update on Leadership and Management Principles for State Department Employees. Long, long, before that, there was Secretary Colin Powell and leadership. In 2000, FSI launched a new Leadership and Management School. Twelve years later, State/OIG still talked leadership (see State Dept’s Leadership and Management School Needs Some Leadership, And It’s Not Alone). For the longest time after Powell exited the State Department, the one part of the State Department that actively pursued leadership as part of it staff development is the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA). CA developed the Consular Leadership Tenets  in 2006 after receiving input from 87 overseas consular sections. In 2007, somebody even got the then Under Secretary for Management Henrietta Fore to “talked” (PDF) about promoting leadership development, specifically citing the consular leadership tenets and what the bureau “is doing to cultivate a culture of leadership and results-oriented professional development.”

Now, we understand that there were a few folks at CA/EX who made possible the leadership initiative there, including Don Jacobson, the founder of GovLeaders.org. He was previously consular boss for Mission Brazil and received the Raphel Memorial Award for  “outstanding leadership and direction” of the consular team.  He once said:

My best assignments have been those that involved “crucible” experiences–intense experiences rich in learning. For example, in Bogota we had a huge spike in workload and nowhere near the resources we needed to get the job done. We implemented some terrific innovations, but I also wound up burning out some of my officers. I learned a lot from that and have tried to take a much more balanced approach since then. At another post, I had some great opportunities to develop a stronger backbone. I terminated two employees and also had to protect my staff from a difficult senior boss. I used to avoid conflict as much as I could, but that is not helpful in a manager. Managers need to have a backbone in order to be effective—to speak truth to power, to protect their staff from abuse, and to deal with poor performance and unacceptable behavior. These things get easier with practice because, as I have found, difficult problems go away if you actually deal with them. 

Unfortunately, it does not look like he has a speaking part in the State Department’s big leadership powwow. Perhaps all those annual leadership awardees at State should be talking about leadership in practice?

Today, the State Department launched its first Leadership Day.  According to AFSA, the inaugural Leadership Day is organized by the State Department’s Culture of Leadership Initiative (iLead), a voluntary group of employees “working to strengthen leadership skills and practice throughout the State Department.” iLead originated with the 2014 release of the LMPs. The iLead forum is currently co-chaired by Carmen Cantor, HR/CSHRM Office Director; Michael Murphy, Associate Dean at FSI’s Leadership and Management School; and Julie Schechter-Torres, Acting Deputy Director of M/PRI.

As outlined in the 2015 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), the success of the State Department rests on its ability to recruit, train, deploy, and retain talented and dedicated professionals. We must prepare people not only to react quickly to crises, but also to proactively advance our interests – all the while caring for the wellbeing and development of themselves and colleagues. To celebrate recent achievements and to foster continuous commitment to the Department’s Leadership and Management Principles, iLead is organizing a Leadership Day to showcase leadership in practice. The event is scheduled to take place on December 13, 2016 with a plenary session in the Dean Acheson Auditorium and a Leadership Expo in the Exhibit Hall at the Harry S Truman building. The event will feature presentations, panel discussions, and short talks on leadership and professional development by Department staff at all levels and from various disciplines.

The preliminary agenda is as follows:

11:00 AM – 1:00 PM Leadership Expo in the Exhibit Hall, HST

1:00 PM – 4:00 PM Plenary Session in the Dean Acheson Auditorium

The Leadership Day plenary session will be comprised of two segments: a senior leadership panel discussion and a series of short talks on the Leadership and Management Principles. The senior panel will highlight reflections on leadership and bureau best practices as championed by the following participants:

Catherine Novelli, U/S for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment;
Michele Thoren Bond, A/S for Consular Affairs;
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, A/S for African Affairs;
William Brownfield, A/S for Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

Interested employees may send questions for the panel to ilead@state.gov.

We noticed the names absent from the above line-up.  The Deputy Secretary of Management and Resources (D/MR) is missing. The Under Secretary for Management (M) is not listed as a speaker. The Director General of the Foreign Service (DGHR) who by the way, has been running a podcast on leadership on iTunes and SoundCloud is also not in the line-up. Of course, they are busy with other stuff but these senior officials have a larger impact on the institution and its people. Wouldn’t you want to hear their thoughts about leadership and management in practice during the inaugural Leadership Day? No?

Update: It looks like the AFSA notice we saw about this event was outdated.  We’ve since learned that Secretary Kerry gave a keynote speech on leadership, and DGHR Arnold Chacon had a speaking role as well. Don Jacobson also did a presentation during the “Leaders Speak” part of this program.  Our source told us that “Leadership Day was organized by an amazing team of volunteers who are passionate about growing leaders for State. They are among the many members of the iLead group that consistently put their discretionary energy into promoting effective leadership at all levels of the State Department.”

The talk, the talk, Throwback Tuesday:

From State Magazine, 2001: “Investment in human capital is critical to maintaining State’s expertise in the 21st century. As Director General Marc Grossman told a Georgetown University audience recently, “I tell everyone who will listen that training and professional development will be key to meeting the challenges of our new world and key to our ability to fashion a diplomacy for the 21st century.”

From AFSA, 2015 – DGHR Arnold Chacon: “We are partnering with AFSA to develop and implement a professional code of ethics for the Foreign Service, based on our core values of accountability, character, community, diversity, loyalty and service. Bringing these values into sharper relief—and tying them to who we are and to what we do that is unique and consequential for our nation—is essential for our conversations with Congress and the American people. We not only want to forge a more capable FS 2025 workforce, but also communicate our accomplishments strategically and well.”

Also, hey, whatever happened to AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics?

 

Related posts:

 

 

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A Sexual Assault Reporting Process Foreign Service Members Deserve: If Not Now, When? Attn: @JohnKerry #16days

Posted: 2:13 am ET
Updated: 11:47 am PT

 

For victims/survivors of sexual assault, please see Sexual Assault in the Foreign Service — What To Do?  Consider below as a follow-up post to The State Dept’s Sexual Assault Reporting Procedure Appears to Be a Black Hole of Grief.

The following is provided for general information that is intended, but not guaranteed, to be correct and up-to-date. Please do not consider the following legal advice as we are not lawyers; read the full necessary disclaimer below.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) has the following sexual violence statistics:

  • On average, there are 288,820 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States
  • Ages 12-34 are the highest risk years for rape and sexual assault
  • 90% of adult rape victims are female
  • 94% of women who are raped experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms during the two weeks following the rape.
  • 30% of women report PTSD symptoms 9 months after the rape.
  • 33% of women who are raped contemplate suicide.
  • The majority of perpetrators are someone known to the victim. Approximately 3 out of 4 of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim

Rape notification rates differ depending on whether the victim know the perpetrator — those who knew a perpetrator were often less likely to report the crime, according to RAINN. A report (PDF) published by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center says that many survivors experience great difficulty in disclosing a sexual assault, especially when the perpetrator is known to the victim. The study is focused on rural America where “the propensity to not report may be reinforced by informal social codes that dictate privacy and maintaining family reputation. Sexual assaults in rural areas are mostly hidden crimes, hidden both intentionally and unintentionally by characteristics of a close-knit culture or an isolated lifestyle.”  Rural communities like small towns as places where “everybody knows everybody.” Sounds familiar?

A victim will have little anonymity. It means she, or a friend or family member is likely to be acquainted with or related to the perpetrator and that she may reencounter the perpetrator, even on a regular basis. Furthermore, “the closer the relationship between victim and assailant, the less likely the woman is to report the crime” (Hunter, Burns-Smith, Walsh, 1996). Studies have quite consistently pointed to the importance of the victim-offender relationship in affecting the propensity to report (Pollard, 1995; Ruback, 1993, Ruback & Ménard, 2001). In rural areas, law enforcement is likely to be part of the social network (Sims, 1988; Weisheit, Wells & Falcone, 1994; Weisheit, Wells & Falcome, 1995). This compounds the problem of reporting non-stranger sexual assaults.

We need to point out that in the Foreign Service, particularly overseas, Diplomatic Security law enforcement –as in rural communities and small towns — is part of the social network.

We should also note that a 2002 study by Lisak-Miller indicates (PDF) that a majority of the undetected rapists were repeat rapists. The repeat rapists averaged 5.8 rapes each.

According to the Callisto Project, which provides survivors with a confidential and secure way to create a time-stamped record of an assault in American campuses less than 10% of survivors will ever report their assault. Survivors wait an average of 11 months to report their assault to authorities and up to 90% of assaults are committed by repeat perpetrators.  Callisto’s CEO Jess Ladd told us that someday she would like to make available their product within other institutions (including companies and agencies) and to have a free version that anyone can use to store what happened.  But Callisto is not there yet.


Foreign Service Victims’ Concerns

Among the concerns we’ve heard so far are: 1) lack of clear reporting process, 2) confidentiality, 3) sexual assault response training, 4) potential conflict/undue pressure on investigators/managers who may be friends, colleague, or subordinates of perpetrators, and 5) lack of sexual assault data.

As we’re written here previously DOD and Peace Corps provide restricted and unrestricted reporting for victims, but that does not appear to be the case in the Foreign Service.  The State Department has over 275 posts in about 180 countries. The agency’s Diplomatic Security has Regional Security Offices in most locations but not all.  The State Department has previously told this blog that Diplomatic Security’s Office of Special Investigations  “receives and catalogues allegations and complaints. Allegations are neither categorized by location nor by alleged offense.” Which begs the question, how will the State Department know if it has sexual predators living among its various communities particularly overseas if it does not track these types of offenses?

Due to the lack of clear reporting process — except “report to RSO” or “contact OSI,” victims (as well as this blog) have no way to independently assess what reporting entails. We don’t know what kind of confidentiality is afforded the victims. Among other concerns and questions:

  • When we asked an FS assault victim if there is any good option for reporting sexual assault, we were told bluntly, “There is no good option. That’s what the predator knows.” 
  • When a victim reports to RSO overseas, we know that the RSO is supposed to contact State/OSI, but who else has access to that information?   Embassy/post leadership? Which officials in the embassy hierarchy?  Will the local Health Unit be informed? The CLO? State/MED? DS Command Center?  And will reporting victims be informed in advanced who their information will be shared with and the specific reason for sharing their information?
  • Do DS/OSI investigators travel to the location of the assault to investigate? Time and evidence collection are of the essence in sexual assault reporting.  If yes, how quickly?  Is there a have rapid response team? What should the victim do while waiting for the arrival of DS/OSI investigators? Not shower? Not go to work?
  • In countries where sexual assault victims are jailed for “promiscuity”, what is the State Department’s policy and recommendation to someone assaulted in a place where requesting a rape kit means going to jail? Would the Department work with local authorities to actually protect the victim from prosecution while DS investigates or would they just allow an already traumatized victim to get PNG’d and force them to pack up and leave?
  • How will the victim’s report be transmitted to DS/OSI? Via unclassified email? Via fax? Via phone? In the case of emails, what restricts that information from being forwarded with a click of a mouse, or the record being compromised intentionally or unintentionally?
  • How are victims’ reporting records protected?  What are the consequences for an employee/s with access to the victim’s report who shares it with an unauthorized entity or individual? What if it is shared with a colleague, or a friends, or a family member?
  • What kind of training do RSOs get to enable them to assist sexual assault victims overseas? “Does every single RSO in the world know a designated medical facility to process a rape kit?” Or for that matter, do Health Units at overseas posts even have this information available?
  • Victims who report to RSO or DS/OSI would like to know if the officers receiving their sexual assault reports represent the victims’ interests or State Department interests?
  • What support is available to victims? What can victims expect after they report their assaults?  What consequences will their reporting have on their medical clearance and assignments? What kind of work accommodation will be extended to them, if needed? Who will be their effective has the responsibility to advocate for them if they need to file workers’ comp from the Department of Labor?
  • How are perpetrators — who are not strangers — handled by the State Department?  This is not a hypothetical question.  An OIG investigation indicates that one security officer’s alleged sexual misconduct spanned 10 years and 7 posts.  In that case, the Department never attempted to remove the RSO from Department work environments where the RSO could potentially harm other employees.  DS agents investigating the 2011 allegations reported to DS management, in October 2011, that they had gathered “overwhelming evidence” of the RSO’s culpability.  These agents encountered resistance from senior Department and DS managers as they continued to investigate the RSO’s suspected misconduct in 2011. The OIG found that the managers in question had personal relationships with the RSO.  Folks who work at the State Department should ask questions like who are these senior Department and DS managers who allowed this to happen for 10 years and 7 posts?  Do they have other friends that they have similarly protected? What happened to the victims at 7 posts? What support were available to them?  What responsibility does the State Department have for not removing that employee despite overwhelming evidence of culpability?


FOIA Diplomatic Security’s sexual assault cables?

As readers here know, there is no official guidance in the FAM on reporting sexual assault in the Foreign Service (see The State Dept’s Sexual Assault Reporting Procedure Appears to Be a Black Hole of Grief). We’ve requested the unclassified cables that were released by DS/OSI in 2015 and earlier this year on sexual assault reporting (15 State 71370;  15 State 79760;  and 16 STATE 5647all reportedly available at DS/OSI intranet). Since the information is unclassified and it could be useful information, we thought we could save time and money by requesting these through regular channels without having to FOIA them. We appreciate the efforts of those who were trying to obtain these for us through regular channels; we understand some folks worked through the weekend to attend to this requests. Thanks, folks!  Late Monday, we got word from a State Department spokesperson:

“Our thanks for your patience while the Department reviewed the practice of releasing State Department internal cables to members of the public or media. At this stage, a decision has been made that we are unable to release cables in this manner.”

Unbelievable! But it is what it is.  We need, therefore, to FOIA these unclassified cables. Given State’s FOIA processing record, we don’t expect to see these cables until 1-2-3-4 years down the road. We might be dead of heartbreak by then.


State/OIG Hotline and Office of Special Counsel

State/OIG has reiterated to us that that their office takes allegations of rape and sexual harassment very seriously and repeated the response they provided us back in August here.  Note that we have already been told that cases like this should not be reported to the OIG Hotline.  Read more here: Another Note About the Burn Bag–There’s No Easy Way of Doing This, Is There?.  State/OIG told us that Department employees who believe they have been subjected to whistleblower retaliation may contact OIG or the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). OIG can help the individual in understanding their rights and may investigate the retaliation, as well as alert the Department to any illegal reprisal.  State/OIG also said: “By no means do we want to discourage anyone from contacting our Hotline, but such a serious crime as a rape needs to be dealt with immediately and that’s why we recommend a call to local law enforcement.”

Continue reading

EEOC Case: Complaint Regarding Comments on Blog Does Not State a Claim

Posted: 1:52 am ET

Via eeoc.gov

Complaint Regarding Comments on Blog Does Not State a Claim. The Commission affirmed the Agency’s dismissal of Complainant’s complaint alleging that disparaging comments were posted about him on an internet blog frequented by Agency employees who were members of a professional association. The blog contained a disclaimer that statements “do not reflect any official position” of the Agency, and there was no indication that the blog was sufficiently related to Complainant’s employment. There was also no indication that the blog was sponsored by or affiliated with the Agency or that Agency resources or official time were used to author the article in question. Alfonzo H. v. Dep’t of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120160450 (April 22, 2016); request for reconsideration denied EEOC Request No. 0520160327 (July 20, 2016).

The blog cited in this case is ‘Dead Men Working’ named in the EEOC Appeal filing.  The following appears as footnotes in the same document:

1 This case has been randomly assigned a pseudonym which will replace Complainant’s name when the decision is published to non-parties and the Commission’s website.

2 According to a Declaration submitted by Complainant, officers of the AFSA learned about the contents of the blog because they receive Google alerts to note anything on the internet that mentions “AFSA,” and this blog post popped up in an alert.

3 Complainant, himself, concedes this is not the first name of the agency employee he believes authored the blog.

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Why Are DS Agents Fleeing Diplomatic Security In Droves For the U.S. Marshals Service?

Posted: 2:17 am ET
Updated: 12:21 pm PT

 

We’ve heard from multiple sources that some 30-40 DS agents are leaving the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (State/DS) to join the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) and that there may be other group departures for other agencies.

One DS source speaking on background told us that the USMS Director reportedly called his counterpart at Diplomatic Security to inform the latter that he would be extending job offers to over 40 agents.  Another bureau source told us that during the “huddle” involving the DS agents prior to the start of the recent UNGA event in New York, the bureau’s second highest ranking official reportedly told the assembled agents that the departing agents would not be allowed back.

Does this mean that in addition to the shortage of approximately 200 agents discussed at the worldwide RSO conference this past May, there are 40 or more agent positions that will soon go vacant?

Whoa!

Our DS source speaking on background said that “there’s an overall discontent amongst mid-level DS agents and the main reason seems to stem from the current DS leadership.”

The DS insider cited the following main complaints that have reportedly bounced around the corridors:

  • “DS promotes the “good ol’ boys” and not necessarily the smart, motivated agents who are capable of leading the bureau. This leaves us with a lot of incompetent top-level DS agents and a lot of disgruntled lower lever DS agents.”
  • “DS is incapable of managing their promotions and assignments and, as a result, agents are frustrated with the lack of transparency. Also, there’s no one to complain to as AFSA seems to disregard DS completely. Almost as if the bureau is too far gone to save.”
  • “DS agents spend most of their time domestically, but DS does not allow DS agents to homestead, or stay in one field office for longer than one tour. This creates a lot of unnecessary hardships for families.”
    (A separate source told us that those serving on domestic assignments want to stay more than one tour in cities other than the District of Columbia and estimate that this would not only serve the U.S. government money from relocation costs but also allow agents to build continuity with prosecutors and other agencies).
  • “Regardless of gender, DS leadership is not concerned with family and does not provide a healthy work/life balance for any of their agents.”

We should point out that one of the bureaucratic casualties in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack was Charlene Lamb, who was then the Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs. In that capacity, she was responsible for managing and directing all international missions and personnel.

Back in August 2013, we wrote this:

The DS bureau has been described as in a “hell of hurt” these days.  Not only because it lost three of its top officials in one messy swoop, but also because one of those officials was an important cog in the assignment wheel of about 1,900 security officers.  If the assignments of DS agents overseas have been a great big mess for the last several months, you may account that to the fact that Ms. Lamb, the person responsible for managing and directing all Bureau of Diplomatic Security programs and policies including personnel, had been put inside a deep freezer.  While planning has never been a State Department strength, succession planning is altogether a foreign object.

Note and question of the day:  “Diplomatic Security is under intense pressure following Benghazi so now all resources are put towards “high threat” areas.  Nevertheless, experienced and well regarded DS officers at overseas posts are finding it impossible to stay out – even when they are the first choice for the receiving post.  

We should note that there are only 170 embassies, 78 consulates general and 11 consulates overseas.  There are not enough positions for all DS agents to fill overseas and majority of them do serve at domestic locations.

If it is true that the bureau has been “incapable of managing their promotions and assignments” in the last three years, then we can see why this could be frustrating enough to make agents decamp to other agencies.

Of course, the bureau can replace all those who are leaving, no matter the number. There is, after all, a large pool of applicants just waiting to be called to start new classes. (Note: There’s a rumor going on that DS reportedly had difficulty filling the last two DS agent classes because they were short of people on the list. We don’t know how this could be possible if DS has always had a full roster of qualified applicants on its list.  In 2015, it claimed to have 10,000 applicants but only assessed slightly over 500 applicants.)  

But that’s not really the point. Training takes time.  Time costs money. And above all, there is no instant solution to bridging the experience gap. If people are leaving, does the bureau know why?  If it doesn’t know why, is it interested in finding out the whys?  Is it interested in fixing the causes for these departures?

That low attrition rate

We were also previously told by a spokesperson that the overall Special Agent attrition rate for 2015 was 3.66%.  We have since been informed by a bureau source that this is an inaccurate attrition stats, as the figure released did not count agents who transition to other agencies, only those who leave U.S. Government service.

We’ve been trying to get a comment from Diplomatic Security since last week on agent departures. We’ve also requested clarification on the attrition rate released to us.  As of this writing, we have not received a response.

 

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Obama’s Career Ambassadorship Appointments: Highest on Record at 70.8% #ThanksObama

Posted: 1:09 am ET

 

According to @Philip Arsenault who has done a lot of good work using presidential records to track the ambassadorial appointees going back to FDR, President Obama appointed to-date the highest number of career diplomats as ambassadors at 70.8%, and the lowest number of non-career political appointees at 29.2%.

The political ambassadorships during Obama’s two terms amount to 29.2% of his total appointments, which is lower than President Carter, previously the lowest on record at 30.8%.

AFSA’s ambassadorship tracker has different numbers but we’ve stopped using the group’s ambassador statistics since 2015.  See our write up on AFSA’s Ambassador Statistics here and why we find its data problematic.

 

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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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