AFSA Shouts “Fire!” and a @StateDept Spox on Background Asks, “Fire, What Fire?”

Posted: 2:58 pm PT
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The piece below, in case you have not read it yet, is an advance copy of AFSA President Barbara Stephenson’s opinion essay on the depletion of the Foreign Service career ranks. Not NYT or the Washington Post but for a December 2017 column in the Foreign Service Journal, the group’s trade publication with a reported circulation of 17,500 and approximately 35,000 readers (this column was also circulated via an email marketing service). We’ve been watching the departures from the State Department since January, and this is the first time we’re seeing these numbers. And frankly, the first time we’re hearing the alarm from the “voice of the Foreign Service.” We have some thoughts below after the piece.

 

Time to Ask Why
December 2017 Foreign Service Journal
President’s Views

By AFSA President Ambassador Barbara Stephenson

I begin with a reminder that we, the members of the career Foreign Service, have an obligation as stewards of our institution to be effective advocates for why diplomacy matters. That requires some skill in explaining how diplomacy works.

While raising awareness of and appreciation for the Foreign Service is a longstanding goal, one AFSA has pursued with renewed vigor and impact over the past couple years, the need to make the case for the Foreign Service with fellow Americans and our elected representatives has taken on a new urgency. The cover of the Time magazine that arrived as I was writing this column jarred me with its graphic of wrecking balls and warning of “dismantling government as we know it.”

While I do my best, as principal advocate for our institution and as a seasoned American diplomat, to model responsible, civil discourse, there is simply no denying the warning signs that point to mounting threats to our institution—and to the global leadership that depends on us.

There is no denying that our leadership ranks are being depleted at a dizzying speed, due in part to the decision to slash promotion numbers by more than half. The Foreign Service officer corps at State has lost 60 percent of its Career Ambassadors since January. Ranks of Career Ministers, our three-star equivalents, are down from 33 to 19. The ranks of our two-star Minister Counselors have fallen from 431 right after Labor Day to 369 today—and are still falling. 

These numbers are hard to square with the stated agenda of making State and the Foreign Service stronger. Were the U.S. military to face such a decapitation of its leadership ranks, I would expect a public outcry. Like the military, the Foreign Service recruits officers at entry level and grows them into seasoned leaders over decades. The talent being shown the door now is not only our top talent, but also talent that cannot be replicated overnight. The rapid loss of so many senior officers has a serious, immediate, and tangible effect on the capacity of the United States to shape world events.

Meanwhile, the self-imposed hiring freeze is taking its toll at the entry level. Intake into the Foreign Service at State will drop from 366 in 2016 to around 100 new entry-level officers joining A100 in 2018 (including 60 Pickering and Rangel Fellows).

Not surprisingly, given the blocked entry path, interest in joining the Foreign Service is plummeting. I wrote with pride in my March 2016 column that “more than 17,000 people applied to take the Foreign Service Officer Test last year,” citing interest in joining the Foreign Service as a key indicator of the health of the institution. What does it tell us, then, that we are on track to have fewer than half as many people take the Foreign Service Officer Test this year?

As the shape and extent of the staffing cuts to the Foreign Service at State become clearer, I believe we must shine a light on these disturbing trends and ask “why?” and “to what end?”   

Congress rejected drastic cuts to State and USAID funding. The Senate labeled the proposed cuts a “doctrine of retreat” and directed that appropriated funds “shall support” staffing State at not less than Sept. 30, 2016, levels, and further directed that “The Secretary of State shall continue A-100 entry-level classes for FSOs in a manner similar to prior years.”

Given this clear congressional intent, we have to ask: Why such a focus on slashing staffing at State? Why such a focus on decapitating leadership? How do these actions serve the stated agenda of making the State Department stronger?

Remember, nine in ten Americans favor a strong global leadership role for our great country, and we know from personal experience that such leadership is unthinkable without a strong professional Foreign Service deployed around the world protecting and defending America’s people, interests and values.  Where then, does the impetus come from to weaken the American Foreign Service?  Where is the mandate to pull the Foreign Service team from the field and forfeit the game to our adversaries?

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AFSA says that the Foreign Service officer corps “has lost 60 percent of its Career Ambassadors since January.” We winced when we saw that one. Not all career diplomats attain this rank; in fact, only a handful of individuals are nominated by the President to become Career Ambassadors but this is the very top rank of the Foreign Service, equivalent to a four-star general. Imagine if the Pentagon lost 60 percent of its 0-10 but way, way worse because the Foreign Service is a much smaller service, and the loss of one or two officials have significant impact to the leadership ranks.

When we saw the AFSA message Tuesday night, we noticed that social media started latching on to the 60 percent loss.  AFSA could have used actual numbers as it did with the break down of the second and third top ranks in the FS, but for its own reason, it used the percentage instead of actual numbers for the career ambassadors. So that caused a mild feeding frenzy that’s not helpful because when folks realize that 60 percent is really 3 out of 5 career ambassadors, they won’t be happy.

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What’s That Sound? That’s AFSA Drilling a Hole In Search of Its Missing Backbone

Posted: 2:14 pm PT
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Via Politico: Barbara Stephenson, the president of the American Foreign Service Association, the diplomats’ union: “America’s leadership is being challenged by adversaries who would like to see us fail. We cannot let that happen,” she said. “With all the threats facing our nation, we need a properly resourced and staffed Foreign Service more than ever, and we need them where they do the most good—posted abroad, delivering for the American people.”

AFSA on Twitter:

–Nine in 10 Americans support strong American global leadership. (1/5)
— That’s unthinkable without a strong/professional FS deployed around the world protecting/defending our people, interests & values. (2/5)
— America’s leadership is being challenged by adversaries who would like to see us fail. We cannot let that happen. (3/5)
— With all the threats facing our nation, we need a properly resourced and staffed Foreign Service more than ever (4/5)
— and we need them where they do the most good—posted abroad, delivering for the American people. (5/5)

AFSA added “At this point, President Trump’s ambassadorial nominees have taken an average of 42 days to be confirmed. (GW Bush 62 days, Obama 101 days.)”

Heard anything yet from Secretary Tillerson? From Deputy Secretary Sullivan?

O.K.

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Open Forum Furor: An Attempt to Neuter Retiree Complaints About AFSA?

Posted: 1:44 am ET
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AFSA’s Open Forum enables Foreign Service retirees to stay in touch with their Foreign Service colleagues on FS issues and maintain their FS legacy. Out of some 16,000 paying members, a sub-group of retiree-members use the online forum, and they are pretty vocal and not always complimentary to AFSA or its leadership. AFSA previously opted-in all members to the forum in 2014 so everyone gets to read the online conversation.

An Open Forum user said that all those who get the Open Forum digest daily benefits from being part of a dynamic discussion/debate of Foreign Service topics of interest, whether or not they chose to post in the forum themselves.

AFSA Director of Communications Asgeir Sigfusson recently told members that “We have heard from members asking us to do our best to stem the flow of emails and help with inbox clutter. In response, we are now opting everyone out of that daily email, which will reduce the number of weekly AFSA emails by up to seven.”

We were informed by our sources that “When asked, AFSA staff indicated they have no knowledge of any complaints about the Forum.”

AFSA’s President and State VP, and their communication shop are notoriously unresponsive to our inquiries, so um … pardon us if we no longer waste our time over there.  

The Open Forum mechanism to opt-in is reportedly not onerous, and we can certainly understand decluttering the inbox but some AFSA members are outrage, especially as the change was announced just a few days before it took effect.  More importantly, there is a strong suspicion that trimming access to the forum (or what members read even passively from the forum) and the requirement to opt-in are just ways to trim the unfavorable views expressed by the retired members.

Former AFSA Vice President for Retirees Larry Cohen who oversaw the creation of the forum did not minced words and said, “This as an attempt of AFSA leadership to neuter retiree complaints about AFSA.”

Ouch! What are they talking about in there, do tell!

A close AFSA observer notes that changes at AFSA that could have lead to this kerfuffle includes communication issues like Governing Board meeting agendas and approved minutes that should be available on the AFSA website for any interested member but are not.

“Overall AFSA leadership seems to want a tight control on information.  They do not share enough or ask enough.  The current communications policy divides up the Service by not sharing communications across all constituencies so that  all interested, whether active or retired, can be better informed.  Boards and staff continue to ignore the bylaw provision for constituency Standing Committees.  Now is a time to enlarge the tent, not restrict it.  Standing committees have an advisory function and allow for a broader range of perspectives.  The results or main themes or take-always from the  “focused conversations” organized by rank cohort are not shared with the membership with the degree of specificity needed to be useful.  It is not clear how focus group conversations are announced or participants selected.  What about retirees – are they included?”

That sounds almost as bad as the information control generated by the 7th Floor.

The AFSA observer also notes that elected representatives are accountable to members and every member deserves a respectful and timely response to any request for information.

Just yesterday, an Open Forum user complained that the three items he/she submitted have not been published nor acknowledged and asked, “What in the name of AFSA openness is going on?”

The AFSA election results for the 2017-2019 AFSA Governing Board had a total of 4,130 valid ballots cast or 25% of the eligible voting membership (note that the new Governing Board was seated last week, so old Prez but new State VP). That’s the same percentage of voters who participated in the 2015-2017 elections. A few years back, we sliced and diced the AFSA voting numbers and at that time, we noted that active-duty employees were the largest voting bloc in AFSA at over 60% of the total membership, but only about 16% of this constituency vote. Foreign Service retirees on the other hand, the second largest constituents of AFSA make up something like 26% of the total membership but almost half the total AFSA retiree members cast their votes (2016 membership is currently 10,792 active employees and 3,710 retired employees). The retirees also bring in about $260K in AFSA dues annually.

As a side note, did you hear about the ruling from the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FSLRB) about Foreign Service retirement and witholding of union dues? (Separate post to follow).

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AFSA Elections 2017: Three of Four Top Elected Posts Are Uncontested. Again.

Posted: 12:10 am ET
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It’s that time of year again. AFSA is having an election for the 2017 Governing Board.  For the second time in four years, three of the four top elected posts are again, unopposed: President, Secretary, Treasurer.  As in 2013, only the State VP position has two candidates.  Also uncontested slots are: USAID VP, FAS VP, APHIS Rep, BBG Rep, FAS Rep and USAID Rep.  The Foreign Service had seen this movie before in the 2013 elections.

Barbara Stephenson is running unopposed for reelection as AFSA’s president. In her latest FSJ column addressing the 30% funding cut, she writes that she has become over the years, a “cheerleader for making the most of transitions to reexamine priorities.” In hedging off potential criticisms for AFSA’s noticeable silence over these budget cuts, she cites “AFSA’s record-high membership levels and the response and feedback from our “structured conversations” (now in their second year) and other communications tell me that many members are open to a sophisticated approach by AFSA that draws on our core competencies as diplomats.”

Following Secretary Tillerson’s recent address to State Department employees, WaPo’s Joe Davidson writes“Tillerson seems more in touch with the tension reorganization can generate among employees than the union representing them. A statement from American Foreign Service Association President Barbara Stephenson didn’t address worker apprehension as she said “this reorganization effort offers a rare opportunity to make American diplomacy stronger.”

Former Ambassador Tom Boyatt running unopposed for AFSA Secretary says in his campaign message that he “registered the unprecedented uncertainties in the current budget proposal, the reorganization and “streamlining” being considered and the possible RIF flowing therefrom.”

First time candidate for AFSA office, former Ambassador Tony Wayne running in an uncontested seat for the Treasurer slot says that he “cannot recall a period when the misunderstanding was so serious regarding the vital role that American diplomats and American diplomacy play.  AFSA must be as effective as possible in explaining the importance of the non-military tools in America’s international policy. The proposed budget cuts are deeply concerning.” 

Ken Kero-Mentz running for State Vice President under the Stephenson slate writes, “I believe we must forge new alliances, build new bridges, and plan for a stronger future, together. […] I believe AFSA must be a place where everyone can share concerns and ideas, safely. I know how to work with senior management, and I know how to advocate for our Foreign Service and our Department.”

Joe De Maria, an independent running for State Vice President says, “I have served 26 years in the Foreign Service. I’ve served at six posts and in five functional bureaus with many fine generalists and specialists. I’ve served as a consular officer, a Pearson Fellow, HRO, Labor Officer and Congressional Advisor. I know the Department well.[…] I know what works well and what doesn’t, and what motivates us to keep plugging away year after year. Let me put this experience and knowledge to work for you and your families.”

Ann Posner for USAID Vice President in an uncontested seat writes: “As USAID Contingency VP, I want to press onward to assure that the Agency streamlines systems that affect FSOs’ work and careers.”

Daniel Crocker running for FCS Vice President as part of the sole slate: “I’ll help ensure that FCS’s role in promoting U.S. economic security is a core component of your country team at post. I’ll challenge Commerce to support a first-tier Foreign Service. And my communication with you will be transparent and timely.”

Independent Steve Morrison is running for FCS Vice President says that he “Cannot be promoted, SFS “window” not open so ONLY WORKS FOR YOU AND YOUR INTERESTS!”

The contested Retiree VP slot is between Bill Haugh who is running as part of the only slate and John Naland running as an independent. Haugh writes: “I want to strengthen AFSA’s capacity to help you transition to retirement. Every retirement is unique, so I propose to strengthen AFSA casework. I am a career management officer with decades of experience navigating the bureaucracy.”

AFSA President twice and former AFSA VP John Naland writes that he is the “only retiree candidate who has pledged to dedicate 20 hours per week to AFSA, I have the time to apply my experience and knowledge to advancing AFSA’s agenda.  As an independent candidate, if the need arises to urge our AFSA President to speak out more strongly in defense of the Service, I will be freer to do so than her fellow slate candidates whose elections she made possible.”

As an aside — we have not made a habit of endorsing AFSA candidates and we are not about to start now, but we will always remember John Naland as an AFSA president who was willing to address members’ concerns long before we had this blog. He was accommodating and sensitive to the issues of Foreign Service members and their spouses, even those who were not paying members of the organization.  He certainly talked the talk and walked the walk.

Frankly, we are sorry to see that he is not at the top of the ticket.

Former Ambassador Alphonse F. La Porta for Retiree Representative talks about “another and lesser known threat: the gutting of employee rights and the labor-management system for which AFSA is responsible as the exclusive representative of the Foreign Service. The law-based and carefully-negotiated rights of federal unions are under attack on the Hill to limit due process, employee protections, and AFSA advocacy.”

Philip A. Shull for Retiree Representative as part of the sole slate writes that “If elected as your Retiree Representative, I will use my skills and 30+ years of experience in marketing and coalition building to win over even more converts.”

George Colvin is running as an independent for Retiree Representative. In his campaign statement, he writes:

According to prominent legal theorist Jack Goldsmith, the Trump administration is conducting “the greatest presidential onslaught on international law and international institutions in American history,” including “trying to gut State Department capacity across the board.” News stories feature bewildered Department staff fearful of budget cuts that could produce a Foreign Service RIF, as well as a drastic and damaging reorganization. The Secretary is a taciturn recluse and policy bystander.

Faced with conditions that threaten both the national interest and the future of the Foreign Service, Barbara Stephenson and her colleagues have nothing to say.

I am running as an independent candidate for retiree representative because I believe AFSA must engage on these concerns, and must be seen to do so. We are the Foreign Service, not the Silent Service; and it is past time for the “Voice of the Foreign Service” to start speaking.

Oh boy! Mr. Colvin might just stir things up on the Board!

Several folks are also running for State Representatives. Some candidates’ statements do not talk about what they hope to accomplish  as AFSA representatives but about the um… “true appreciation of the work” of AFSA President Ambassador Stephenson or Stephenson’s “leadership.”  

Below is a list of nominees.

 

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

Posted: 11:03 am PT
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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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FS Promotion Self-Certification: Assigning Responsibility For Ensuring the Accuracy of Personnel Documents?

Posted: 3:20 am EDT
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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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State Dept’s Conduct and Disciplinary FAM Regulations — Still as Clear as Mud?

Posted: 3:54 pm EDT
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On March 17, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) wrote to Arnold Chacon, the Director General of the Foreign Service and the State Department’s top HR official requesting clarity on the applicability of 3 FAM to career and political/non-career employees of the oldest executive agency in the union. (see AFSA Politely Asks the State Dept: Is Adherence to the Foreign Affairs Manual Optional For Some?NewsFlash: “The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.” Hurry, DECLINE button over there!).

A long time Foreign Service hand told us that the practice has usually been that if a politically appointed State Department official or ambassador violates the Foreign Affairs Manual conduct and disciplinary regulation, that matter is generally raised with the sponsor of the non-career appointee.  Which typically means, the White House.  The infraction is then reportedly handled outside of the State Department system.  In rare cases, the Office of Inspector General is called in with the approval of the secretary of state. This is, apparently not the practice at DOD where political appointees are warned that DOD regulations and enforcement system apply to them equally.

We know that DGHR did respond to AFSA’s inquiry towards the end of Bob Silverman’s tenure but we were told to wait for the incoming elected officials to release the response. Last month, we sent a follow-up email to new AFSA president Barbara Stephenson asking if AFSA can share the DGHR’s clarification on the applicability of the FAM to non-career appointees.  To-date we have received only radio silence from AFSA’s Barbara Stephenson and her VP. We can appreciate why some official correspondence between AFSA and DGHR under special circumstances should be under wraps but what good reason is there not to respond to a solicitation for information on this matter?

A source on background did provide us what DGHR sent to AFSA in response to its March 17 inquiry.

AFSA was seeking clarity as to the provisions in 3 FAM.  In his response, the Director General of the Foreign Service (DGHR) specifically mentions 3 FAM 4300 and 3 FAM 4500 regarding conduct and disciplinary standards and how they might be applied to non-career appointees as opposed to career employees.

DGHR Arnold Chacon writes with an assurance, “From the outset let me assure you that 3 FAM regulations are much more than “guidelines.” They are derived from law and for govemment-wide regulation and are directives to State Department personnel. As you are aware, 3 FAM governs all pertinent personnel policies, practices and matters affecting conditions of employment, most if not all of which as it pertains to Foreign Service is negotiated as appropriate with AFSA.”

DGHR Chacon further writes, “Regarding conduct and discipline of non-career appointees, I can say with confidence that all forms of misconduct are taken seriously by the Department and will be dealt with accordingly. The FAM, by its terms, applies to Schedule A and B appointees. lf a Schedule C or other political appointee were to allegedly commit misconduct, then the State Department and the White House would work in concert to review the situation, take action to prevent abuses, and, if appropriate,  remove the employee. You can be assured that misconduct will always be addressed and dealt with in a fair, thorough and responsive manner, while respecting the right of due process and adherence to the tenet of like penalties for similar offenses.”

Last month, the question of the applicability of the FAM, related to the secretary of state also surfaced during a Daily Press Briefing (see Question of the Day: Is the Secretary of State bound by the rules of the Foreign Affairs Manual or not?). We note the following in a blog post:

The January 2015 OIG report, Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (pdf) includes the following:

[The] Office of the Legal Adviser staff told OIG that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do not apply to Ambassadors who, as in this instance, are political appointees and are not members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service.

According to the OIG report, the Under Secretary for Management disagrees with this interpretation:

[T]he Under Secretary of State for Management advised OIG that he disagrees with the Office of the Legal Adviser interpretation, citing the provisions in the Foreign Service Act of 1980 which designate Chiefs of Mission appointed by the President as members of the Foreign Service. See Foreign Service Act of 1980, §§ 103(1) & 302(a)(1) (22 USC §§ 3903(1) & 3942(a)(1)).

So to sum up, the Office of the Legal Adviser has the opinion that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do not apply to Ambassadors and other political appointees because they are not members of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service. “M” disagreed with that interpretation.  DGHR, an office reporting to “M” has the opinion that the FAM’s disciplinary provisions do/do apply to Schedule A and B appointees.  But note the careful wording in the DGHR’s response as he makes a distinction about Schedule C/political  appointees. He could have said straight up that the FAM applies to Schedule A, B, and C appointees, he did not.

So, there you have it, still as clear as mud?

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New AFSA Governing Board For 2015-2017 Takes Office

Posted: 2:21 pm EDT
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AFSA’s new 29-member Governing Board headed by Ambassador Barbara Stephenson takes office today. Click here for the GB members’ biographies and contact emails.

Strong Diplomacy Slate

#StrongDiplomacy gathered this past weekend to re-focus on the important work ahead. But first we savored the sweeping electoral victory that brought every member of the Strong Diplomacy slate onto the AFSA Governing Board. Here’s to you, our supporters—the AFSA voters who made this win possible. (via FB)

The AFSA Governing Board is elected by the membership every two years and is composed of representatives from each AFSA constituency. The entire membership elects three officers – President, Treasurer, and Secretary. Each constituency then casts votes for its agency or retiree Vice President and representative positions. Currently, the board has 29 members – in addition to the three officers, there are five Vice Presidents (State, USAID, FAS, FCS, and retiree), eleven State representatives, two USAID representatives, one representative each for FAS, FCS, BBG and APHIS, and four retiree representatives. See the complete list here.

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AFSA Releases Official Results of 2015-2017 AFSA Governing Board Elections

Posted: 12:07 pm EDT
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Last week, we blogged this: AFSA Elections Unofficial Results: Barbara Stephenson’s Strong Diplomacy Slate Projected to Win. AFSA has now released the official results via afsa.org.

Strong Dip AFSA

Photo by Strong Diplomacy Slate/FB

The AFSA Committee on Elections is pleased to announce the results of the 2015-2017 AFSA Governing Board elections and Bylaw Amendment. A total of 4,034 valid ballots were received (3,011 online and 1,023 paper). The following AFSA members have been elected:

Officer Positions on the Board

President:

Barbara Stephenson * – 2,032

Matthew K. Asada ** – 1,001

Tex Harris – 861

Secretary:

Bill Haugh * – 3,359

Treasurer:

Charles A. Ford * – 3,381

State Vice President: 

Angie Bryan * – 1,442

Kit Junge – 637

USAID Vice President:

Sharon Wayne – 136

FCS Vice President:

Steve Morrison – 31

FAS President:

Mark Petry – 11

Retiree Vice President:

Tom Boyatt – 780

Charles A. Ray ** – 351

Larry Cohen – 257

Constituency Representatives of the Board

State Representatives (11 positions):

John Dinkelman * – 1,337

Lawrence Casselle * – 1,223

Philip G. Laidlaw * – 1,212

Sam Thielman * – 1,180

Leah M. Pease * – 1,169

Tricia Wingerter * – 1,165

Josh Glazeroff * – 1,158

Margaret Hawthorne * – 1,155

Erin O’Connor * – 1,128

Peter Neisuler * – 1,089

Eric Geelan * – 977

Ronnie S. Catipon – 708

Brynn C. Bennett ** – 675

Neeru Lal ** – 594

Homeyra Mokhtarzada ** – 584

Dan Spokojny ** – 570

Steve McCain ** – 559

Pat Kabra ** – 549

Joel Wisner ** – 543

Ronita Macklin ** – 442

Doug Morrow – 418

Steven M. Jones – 373

USAID Representatives (2 positions):

Jeff Cochrane – 116

Lorraine Sherman – 82

FCS Representative:

William Kutson – 31

FAS Representative:

Corey Pickelsimer – 3

APHIS Representative:

Mark C. Prescott – 3

BBG (IBB) Representative:

To be determined in accordance with the AFSA Bylaws.

Retiree Representatives (4 positions):

John Limbert – 1,147

Alphonse F. La Porta * – 1,096

Patricia Butenis * – 1,051

Dean Haas * – 1,037

* Member of the Strong Diplomacy slate
** Member of the Future Forward AFSA slate

AFSA Elections Unofficial Results: Barbara Stephenson’s Strong Diplomacy Slate Projected to Win

Posted: 9:40 pm EDT
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The AFSA Governing Board Elections for 2015-2017 concluded on June 4. Preliminary results indicate that slightly over 4,000 votes were cast.  About a quarter of over 16,000 eligible voters turned out to vote. This is still a low turnout but higher than all the previous years since we started paying attention — 20% in 2007, 23.91% in 2009, 17% in 2011, and  22% in 2013.  Congratulations are in order to everyone who pushed the turnout to at least 25% this year!

The higher turnout is attributed to several factors  including the presence of two slates, the new electronic voting system, AFSA reminders and the name recognition of candidates.

Preliminary results project the election of Ambassador Barbara Stephenson’s entire slate. Ambassador Stephenson garnered over 5o% of the votes for president.  The remaining votes for the top spot were split with a 3% difference between Matthew Asada and Tex Harris.

The retiree representatives elected are all familiar names, John Limbert,  Alphonse F. La Porta, Patricia Butenis, and Dean Haas. It also looks like all the State representatives are new with no incumbents reelected.

We will have a follow-up post as soon as official results are released.

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