Foreign Service Grievance Board Annual Report 2020-Statistics (3/1/21) – Updated

13 GoingOn 14: Help Keep the Blog Going For 2021 — GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27

 

Update 3/30:  A source with insight into the FSGB process informed us that  the new metric starts counting the days when the file is complete and ready for adjudication.  Prior to file completion, processing times depend heavily on how promptly the grievant and agencies provide documentation.  It appears that the FSGB want to focus on the period that is totally under the FSGB’s control.  That’s understandable but that does not give a full picture. The source agreed that it would have been useful to also report the total processing time as previously calculated. There’s no reason why FSGB can’t include the processing time from ROP closure to decision, as well as the total processing time as it has done in the past. We also learned that to keep cases moving forward during the October 2020 to mid-February 2021 staffing gaps, the remaining 11 FSGB members reportedly had to increased their case work hours on average by about 21 percent. Some cases were also reportedly judged by two-member panels instead of the usual three-member panels. 

Last December, AFSA called on then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to fulfill his statutory responsibility (22 U.S.C. 4135b) to make appointments to the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB). Eight seats on that board have been vacant since October 1 due to inaction on their nominations. “The nomination paperwork was transmitted to Secretary Pompeo’s staff on or before August 28, 2020, giving him at least four weeks to act prior to the September 30 expiration of the terms of office of the eight positions. If Secretary Pompeo had adverse information on any nominees, he could have allowed the Foreign Service agencies and AFSA to submit replacement nominations prior to September 30. Unfortunately, Secretary Pompeo has taken no action over the past three months.”
In the March 2021 issue of the Foreign Service Journal, AFSA Retiree Representative John Naland wrote that  “Secretary Pompeo left office without acting on the nominations, leaving it to his successor to fulfill that responsibility. Secretary Antony Blinken did so within two weeks of taking office. Perhaps by the time a future historian finds this column, Secretary Pompeo will have explained his failure to act. But my impression today as the AFSA Governing Board member charged with overseeing the annual FSGB nomination process is that Secretary Pompeo’s dereliction of duty was of a piece with the arrogance and contempt for the rule of law that he frequently showed to committees of Congress, the media and others. Secretary Pompeo’s passive-aggressive evisceration of the FSGB deserves to be recorded and remembered.”
Lawrence C. Mandel, the Chairperson of the Foreign Service Grievance Board issued the Annual Report for 2020 on March 1, 2021. The report notes that staffing was complicated by delay in the re- appointment of the Board’s Senior Advisor and two annuitant members, and the delay in appointment of five new Board Members, resulting in vacancies of nearly half of their members over the final three months of the year. Members of the Board are appointed for terms of two years by the Secretary of State.
The Annual Report says that despite these staffing challenges, “the Board closed 66 cases – almost as many cases as in 2019 (69). The average time to issue decisions was 66.9 days after closure of the Record of Proceedings (ROP).”
Whoa, whoa, wait, “the average time to issue decisions was 66.9 days after closure of the Record of Proceedings (ROP)?”  That got our attention. Based on the previous annual reports, the disposition of a case was measured from the time of filing to Board decision (or withdrawal/dismissal); not from when decisions are issued after closure of the ROPs.
In 2019, the disposition of cases, as we normally understood it, took 57 weeks, which would have been 399 days. In 2020, the average time is 66.9 days which is just 9.5 weeks. See below:
2020: Average time for disposition of a case, from closure of Record of Proceedings to Board decision was 67 days 
2019: Average time for disposition of a case, from time of filing to Board decision, withdrawal, or dismissal, was 57 weeks. A number of older cases were closed this year, including some that had to await decisions in other fora. Additionally, fewer cases were settled and withdrawn this year, which increased the average time for disposition.
2018: Average time for disposition of a case, from time of filing to Board decision, withdrawal, or dismissal was 41 weeks. Excluding three cases that were significantly delayed by extraordinary circumstances, the average time for disposition was 38 weeks.
2017: Average Time for disposition of a case, from time of filing to Board decision, withdrawal, or dismissal was 41 weeks.
2016: Average Time for disposition of a case, from time of filing to Board decision, withdrawal, or dismissal was 39 weeks.
So we asked the FSGB about this new way of describing the average time of disposition of FSGB cases.  The new way of describing duration of cases is not from time of filing, but rather from when a decision is issued after closure of the ROPs.
We also wanted to know what impact the 3 month delay in appointing/reappointing eight seats to the Board affected the processing of their cases.
We received a brief response that says in part, “We allow the FSGB Annual Report, as submitted to Congress, to speak for itself.”
Help alert! That is, we need help to understand stuff. We still can’t understand the way they calculate the disposition of a case. Counting from closure of ROPs to Board decision does not tell us the actual duration of cases, does it?
Good news though; at least they do not have an email chewing doggo over there!

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Snapshot: State Dept FY2014 FOIA Personnel and Costs

Posted: 9:46 am EST
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Via FY 2014 FOIA Annual Report:

During this fiscal year the Department experienced a 60 percent increase in FOIA lawsuits over fiscal year 2013. The majority of new lawsuits involved voluminous sensitive records that required careful coordination with other federal agencies. To meet the demands of this upswing in FOIA lawsuits, the Department reallocated resources from FOIA processing to FOIA litigation, which directly impacted efforts to manage and reduce the backlog of pending FOIA requests that are not in litigation.

Despite all efforts, including employing best practices established during the successful backlog reduction project in fiscal year 2013 as well as processing over 88 percent of the thousands of referrals that were pending from last fiscal year and received by the Department this fiscal year, the FOIA request backlog rose by 15.8 percent this fiscal year. However, the Department achieved a significant reduction in the FOIA appeal backlog lowering the backlog by 13.7 percent. The Department also closed its ten oldest requests and consultations. These accomplishments are especially noteworthy in light of the fact that the Department reallocated FOIA processing resources to address large, complex FOIA litigation cases and to provide assistance to the Department on significant special document productions throughout the fiscal year.

Note that the number of FOIA requests and administrative appeals backlogs at the end of FY2014 (September 30,2014) is 10,045 or 1,376 cases more than FY2013. Processing of simple FOIA cases can take anywhere between 3 days to 1,576 days or 4.3 years. Processing complex cases can take anywhere between 11 days to 2,237 days or 6.1 years. The average number of days for processing expedited FOIA cases is 385.6 days. (see pdf)

In the table below, the “Equivalent Full-Time FOIA Employees” include When Actually Employed (WAE) former Foreign Service Officers who perform document review and students who work part-time throughout the year to process FOIA requests. Note that the breakdown of personnel does not identify exactly how many WAE and how many students are working FOIA cases, only that they are equivalent to “full-time employees.”  WAE employees have no regularly scheduled tour of duty and the hours worked cannot exceed 1,040 in a calendar year. As for the students, we don’t know how many students rotate through the FOIA office requiring training every year.   Also useful to know that each bureau has its own WAE application and appointment procedures and the ability to hire is limited by the bureau’s budgets.

Screen Shot 2015-03-08

According to the annual report, the processing costs below include “a percentage of the costs incurred by IT staff who were employed to support the FOIA program as one of their major duties”  The IT staffing numbers are not reflected in personnel data column so we also have no idea how many IT staff supports the FOIA office.

Screen Shot 2015-03-08

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In related news:

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Foreign Service Grievance Board: Out With The Old, In With The New — Website

— By Domani Spero

This is a topic almost as old as this blog. In 2008, we wrote that the Foreign Service Grievance Board website was like a relic from an Internet cold war. All the documents were still posted in MS Word, the search function was not terribly helpful and there was no option to search/browse its pending or resolved cases.

Related posts:

Last week, one of our readers gave us a heads-up that fsgb.gov website has gone missing and the web search is returning an error message. It was.  We found the one below from the Wayback Machine:

Screen Shot 2013-09-27

Screen grab of fsgb.gov from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine

About 48 hours later when we look again, we found this!

Screen Shot 2013-09-27

The new website is certainly an improvement from its ancient version.  Some of the more apparent changes:

  • “Browse Grievances” is now available by year. By far, 1996 was a banner year for grievances with 175 cases listed.
  • The posted cases from 2012 are available mostly in pdf files, making it accessible to read even without MS Word installed.
  • New decisions issued by the FSGB now include the names/signatures of the panel members hearing the cases.  Previous cases did not always have the names of the FSGB members or their signatures.
  • The Annual Reports have been updated to include the 2012 report which was submitted to Congress in March 2013, but did not make it online till now (2012 report will be in a separate post)
  • The contact page includes two email addresses and the Executive Secretary’s telephone number.  Have yet to test if either or both respond to inquiries.

The FSGB told Congress on its 2012 report that the Board was “not able to advance to an acceptable stage in the refurbishing of our outdated and overburdened website, but we have managed to continue to post grievance decisions and other essential information both for the public and for use by the members.”  Apparently, at the beginning of 2013, the FSGB finally entered into an agreement with State Department’s IRM which made the website changes possible. Not sure why it took so long but —

Bravo!

The one thing that still needs attention on the FSGB website is the “Search Grievance” function which does not appear to work as well as it should. You can search by year and by specific Record of Proceeding (ROP) and it will return the appropriate records. But if you do the “Document Search” field for instance, on records pertaining to “EER,” “discipline,” “financial,” or “separation” — the top cases filed within the Board, the new website returns a “no match” result.  We’ve used “OR”, “AND”, double quotes, and a wildcard “*” with the same “no match” results.

We suspect that providing a better end-user search experience was among the top justifications for migrating the old website to this new Sharepoint site.  But the FSGB cases do not use meaningful file names and titles, so while browsing the cases is available, it does not make locating the files any more easier or quicker.   It also does not look like the cases have been tagged or use metadata; both if used would help tremendously in improving the “findability” of the cases in the new website.

*(^O^)*