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Diplomatic Security’s Basic Special Agent (BSAC) Training: Sexual Harassment Alert!

Posted: 2:21 pm PT

 

In August 2016, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security and Director of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Bill Miller sent a message on sexual harassment to bureau employees.  We published the entire message here, Below is an excerpt of that 2016 statement:

Diplomatic Security takes sexual harassment extremely seriously – not only as an issue in the State Department, but also especially within our Bureau. 

In our response to questions from Diplopundit on this issue July 27, we noted that we find unacceptable any behavior that threatens people’s well-being in the workplace, or in any way diminishes someone’s professional capacity. 

Sexual harassment is an attack on the values this organization seeks to protect every day.  It compromises our charge to protect the workplace rights and ensure a safe environment for all Department employees.
[…]
As a law enforcement organization, we must hold ourselves to the highest standards of ethical conduct. As the leader of this organization, I hold every employee accountable to that standard and will not accept any less of them.

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are serious issues that affect both men and women. We condemn any comment that seeks to trivialize these activities or their impact on victims. 

Diplomatic Security personnel are made aware of their responsibilities as law enforcement officers and federal employees from the beginning of their employment with the Department.  DS employees receive recurring training on equal employment opportunity guidelines, prohibiting discriminatory practices, harassment in all its forms, and promotion of diversity and inclusiveness throughout their career. 

During the Basic Special Agent Course, Basic Regional Security Officer (RSO) and RSO advanced courses, individuals from the DS Victim’s Resource Advocacy Program provide classes on responding to sexual assault.

I am disappointed and disturbed to hear that anyone in our organization would be concerned about being stigmatized for coming forward to report sexual harassment or sexual assault.  It is unacceptable that we have employees of any gender who may not feel comfortable reporting such activities.

This week, we received an email from a new Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) agent detailing sexual language that female student-agents had to endure during Diplomatic Security’s Basic Special Agent Course (BSAC) training. The writer expressed concern over the “worrisome behavior by senior agents conducting the training” and the apparent tolerance by others witnessing such behavior.  The writer also wrote: “One senior female agent advised me that upon receipt of this complaint, DSS Management’s first response will likely be to try to figure out who the “complainer” is . . rather than dealing with the senior agents responsible for damaging the department’s reputation.”  Our corespondent suggests that if investigators outside of Diplomatic Security want to look into this, all they need to do is talk to the female agents in BSAC’s 137, 136, and 135.

The report below is what we can share publicly.  This writer like our other correspondents in the past, is also wary of retaliation.  We’ve referred to Special Agent #1 as SA#1 although we can certainly imagine a more colorful name. Special Agent #2 is also referred below as SA#2.

ALERT! ALERT! ALEEEEERT!

Received via email from a DSS Special Agent

-START-

Here is what I witnessed:

1) During protective training, I was assigned to a follow car that was “coached” by [Special Agent #1]. During our time with [SA#1], myself and the other females in the group had to listen to [SA#1] describe in detail how during his time in Baghdad he shaved his “balls” and had problems with them “sticking.” [SA#1] then felt it appropriate to detail a trip to his doctor where he had a consultation about erectile medication. [SA#1] also made repeated derogatory comments about his wife. My memory is a little fuzzy on those comments, but they were along the line of, “the old ball and chain, etc.”

I should mention that one of the female agents present is only 22 years old. So this young agent, in her first real job out of college had to sit (literally right next to [SA#1] in the back seat / physically touching him) and listen to [SA#1] , her supervisor, go on and on about his sticky balls in Baghdad and his erectile disfunction . . .i.e. he was discussing his penis.

2) The protection portion of the training was run by unit chief [Special Agent #2]. I personally was “creeped” out by [SA#2] during the entire training as he would try to flirt with the female students in a very unprofessional manner. [SA#2] really crossed the line, however, when for some reason he decided to ask one of the female students (now an agent) for their phone and proceeded to look through it. [SA#2] found the phone number or a text message in the female student-agent’s phone for one of the male contractors working on our final exercise, and texted “I miss you” to the contractor (from the female student/agent’s phone). The female student/agent was of course mortified as it appeared she was texting “I miss you” to the contractor. Is this appropriate behavior from a Unit Supervisor in the training division?!

[SA#2’s] inappropriate behavior continued when, during a re-test he decided to switch out a male student-agent from the position sitting next to him in the exercise to the above mentioned female student-agent. [SA#2] advised the entire BSAC that he was making the switch so he could have someone to “talk to.” He was supposed to be grading the re-test, but instead decided to use the time to creepily attempt to flirt with the female student-agent.

I am sure the above behavior by [SAs #1 and #2] has been repeated in multiple BSAC’s and I hope the department conducts a thorough investigation. Honestly, however, I am not so optimistic that things will change. I know Diplopundit has documented several such sexual harassment claims in the not so distant past, and yet, the above Supervisory SAs seemed to have no compunction in openly behaving this way in front of the 20 plus student-agents!

Where are the Director and the other senior members of DSS management?!! If they cannot protect/prevent a 21 year female agent from having to listen to Supervisory SAs like [SA#1 and SA#2] while she sits in training, how can DSS Senior Management be trusted to protect that same agent from harassment while she is serving in a high threat post in a 98% male RSO shop?!

The Director came to speak to our BSAC, and within 3 minutes of our “pep” talk he told us that if we had joined DSS to use it as a stepping stone we should “get the hell out.” That is a direct quote. One day on the job, and the Director comes in and says “get the hell out” in a pep talk. I would like to turn that around on the Director. If the senior leadership in DSS cannot prevent Supervisory Agents from “creeping out” all females in a BSAC class. Or prevent female student-agents from having to listen to Supervisory SA’s conducting BSAC training discuss their “shaved balls,” maybe it is time for the Director and others to “get the hell out” and leave the bureau in more capable hands?

-END-

The Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Henson v. City of Dundee, 682 F.2d 897, 902, 29 EPD ¶ 32,993 (11th Cir. 1982) notes the following:

Sexual harassment which creates a hostile or offensive environment for members of one sex is every bit the arbitrary barrier to sexual equality at the workplace that racial harassment is to racial equality. Surely, a requirement that a man or woman run a gauntlet of sexual abuse in return for the privilege of being allowed to work and made a living can be as demeaning and disconcerting as the harshest of racial epithets.

Female agents should not have to bear and tolerate this kind of language and offensive behavior for the privilege of being allowed to work at Diplomatic Security.

Why would anyone think this is appropriate, acceptable behavior?

And when this is done by individuals in supervisory ranks during training, how do you expect new employees to step up and report this to these same supervisors? The same supervisors, by the way, who can pass/fail employees during basic training. The same supervisors, by the way, who ought to be modeling the highest standards of ethical and professional conduct for agents-in-training.

While the EEOC policy guidance on sexual harassment notes that “sexual flirtation or innuendo, even vulgar language that is trivial or merely annoying, would probably not establish a hostile environment,” it also talks about the pervasiveness and pattern of behavior.

Putting aside our previous reports on harassment at Diplomatic Security for a moment — if we’re talking about three classes to start with here, what is that if not a pattern? And if this behavior was witnessed and tolerated by people and contractors who should know better, then Diplomatic Security has a systemic problem that no broadcast message from bureau officials can fix.

The Supreme Court said in Vinson that for sexual harassment to violate Title VII, it must be “sufficiently severe or pervasive ‘to alter the conditions of [the victim’s] employment and create an abusive working environment.'” 106 S. Ct. at 2406 (quoting Henson v. City of Dundee, 682 F.2d at 904. Since “hostile environment’ harassment takes a variety of forms, many factors may affect this determination, including: (1) whether the conduct was verbal or physical, or both; (2) how frequently it was repeated; (3) whether the conduct was hostile and patently offensive; (4) whether the alleged harasser was a co-worker or a supervisor; (5) whether the others joined in perpetrating the harassment; and (6) whether the harassment was directed at more than one individual.

In determining whether unwelcome sexual conduct rises to the level of a “hostile environment” in violation of Title VII, the central inquiry is whether the conduct “unreasonably interfer[es] with an individual’s work performance” or creates “an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.” 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11(a)(3). Thus, sexual flirtation or innuendo, even vulgar language that is trivial or merely annoying, would probably not establish a hostile environment.

Preventive actions per EEOC‘S Guidelines encourage employers to: “take all steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring, such as affirmatively raising the subject, expressing strong disapproval, developing appropriate sanctions, informing employees of their right to raise and how to raise the issue of harassment under Title VII, and developing methods to sensitize all concerned.”

Also 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11(f): An effective preventive program should include an explicit policy against sexual harassment that is clearly and regularly communicated to employees and effectively implemented. The employer should affirmatively raise the subject with all supervisory and non- supervisory employees, express strong disapproval, and explain the sanctions for harassment. The employer should also have a procedure for resolving sexual harassment complaints. The procedure should be designed to “encourage victims of harassment to come forward” and should not require a victim to complain first to the offending supervisor. See Vinson, 106 S. Ct. at 2408. It should ensure confidentiality as much as possible and provide effective remedies, including protection of victims and witnesses against retaliation.

All well and good, but in the real world we have these: Chien v. Kerry: DS Agent Files Suit For Race/Sex Discrimination, Hostile Work Environment, and RetaliationInbox: Female Diplomatic Security Agent Pens a Note on Sexual Harassment and Career SuicideAnother Concerned DS Agent Pens Response to Diplomatic Security’s Broadcast Message on Sexual Harassment.

The State Department’s sexual harassment policy is memorialized here.

Related posts:

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@StateDept’s Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC): Status Update

Posted: 1:20 am ET

 

The State Department recently posted a video update of its Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) at Fort Pickett in Virginia.

FASTC will provide hard-skills security training to State Department personnel and the foreign affairs community.  In 2015, GSA purchased property and secured land use agreements for approximately 1,400 acres of publicly held land. On February 25, 2016, construction began for the FASTC project.  According to the State Department, the Master Construction Schedule for the FASTC construction is being completed through three construction contracts. Contractors began construction activities on February 25, 2016 and overall project substantial completion is anticipated for July 2019.

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click here for video update

The FASTC Site Plan below shows the general areas where the hard-skills training venues are currently being built for Contract 01 and Contract 02.  According to state.gov, AECOM of Virginia Beach, VA has provided Construction Management as Agent and Commissioning Services since the Design Phase for the FASTC Ft. Pickett, VA site and is responsible for the numerous comprehensive facets of the construction process, including ongoing site communication, safety, security, and circulation of deliveries and construction vehicles on site.

CONTRACT 1: 2015 – April 2017

Jan. 2017 – Build out of Live Fire Shoot House interior
Feb. 2017 – Rappel Tower wood and rock wall installation
Mar. 2017 – Permanent power to all venues

  • Mock-Urban Tactical Training Area
  • Rappel Tower
  • Smoke House
  • Static Training Device Pad
  • Tactical Maze as well as Interior of the High Bay, Classroom and Breakroom
  • Explosives Demonstration Range
  • Viewing Shelter and Storage Building
  • Live Fire Shoot House as well as Interiors

CONTRACT 2: 2016 – September 2018

Jan. 2017 – Tree clearing and grading continues
Feb. 2017 – Ductbank complete and A01 Foundations begun
Mar. 2017 – Slab on Grade placement at A01, tree clearing finishes

  • A01 (Administrative Office Building 01) and T01 (Training Classroom Building 01)
  • Vehicle Maintenance Shop
  • Ring Road Bridge C-300 and C-307
  • Central Ammo and Explosives Storage
  • High-Speed Driving Track
  • High-Speed Track
  • High-Speed Driving Track Bridge
  • Tank Trail
  • Post-Blast Training Range

CONTRACT 3: 2017 – July 2019

August 2017 – Award
July 2019 – Estimated substantial completion

Screen Shot

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State Department Seeks Diplomatic Security Special Agents (DSSA) — Job Closes Thursday, 12/15

Posted: 6:02 pm PT

 

The Department of State is developing a rank-order list of eligible hires for a number of Special Agent (SA) vacancies. The announcement does not indicate how many vacancies are open only that the specific number to be hired will be based on the needs of the Department and is subject to change.

Diplomatic Security Special Agents (SA) manage a range of security programs worldwide. SAs live and serve at U.S. diplomatic or consular posts abroad, as well as in the Washington, DC area or at field offices in such cities as Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, or San Francisco, according to the needs of the service. As members of a diplomatic team, Special Agents not only help to accomplish the mission of the Department of State, but also represent the United States to people of other nations. The Foreign Service is more than a job – it is a career.

Special Agents normally will be assigned to one of eight domestic Field Offices for their first three years of service (including training), or possibly to a smaller Resident Agent Office. There may, however, be occasions when new SAs will be assigned to other domestic units, support temporary duty assignments, or sent directly overseas. Needs of the service will have a significant bearing on DS SA assignments; sometimes require that domestic assignments be shortened for re-assignment to a Regional Security Office at an overseas post.

Announcement No: SA-2017-0001
Position Title: Diplomatic Security: Foreign Service Special Agent
Open Period: 12/08/2016 – 12/15/2016
Series/Grade: FP-1811-06
Salary: $43,226 – $58,092
Promotion Potential: MC
Position Information: Work Schedule is Full-time – Permanent after being tenured in the Foreign Service by a Foreign Service Tenure Board.
Supervisory Status: Yes
Duty Locations: MANY vacancies – Washington DC

Read more here: https://careers.state.gov/work/opportunities/vacancy-announcements/sa and here: https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/458476800

ds-recruit

 

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A Holiday Wish to the Hundreds of DS Agents Without a “Handshake” This Bidding Season

Posted: 2:09 am ET

 

This Burn Bag was sent to us “as a holiday wish to the hundreds of DS agents still without even an handshake this bidding season and to their families who are also waiting.”  As requested, we’ve considered the following and are publishing the entire post in the sender’s hope that it might bring a little smile to those still waiting for their assignments.  Well, a little smile and as Mr. Google says in his imperfect Italian, maybe “accendere un fuoco sotto il sedere di qualcuno” … 

 

A Visit from the Saint “No Word Yet”

‘Twas just days before Christmas and all through the house,
Frustration was building for the DS spouse.
Bids had been entered in FSBid with great care,
In the hopes that DS would do its fair share;
The DS spouse wonders just what is in store,
for their beloved agent – alone – in Lahore.

October 31st, it came and it went,
But for DS agents few handshakes were sent.
When asks the spouse, oh when will we know?
Will it be Paris, Bangui, or Toronto?
Maybe a Field Office, far from DC.
Or perhaps a year or two with MSD.

Spouses query one another with fear and despair,
It really seams as if DS Does.Not.Care.
On November 4 and December 1, jobs are assigned one-by-one.
In hushed voices agents questions those around,
To what office or mission will I be bound?
Will it be the same as my tandem spouse?

We did all the legwork for the six posts that work,
For a DS spouse needing political work.
My GSO wife or my Management hubby,
Would be extremely happy in Abu Dhabi!
To the top of the list, will my name they call?
Will we know where were going, long before fall?

Uncertainty swirls as the days tick by,
The DS spouse lets out a great cry!
How will we get the kids into school,
If we do not know we’re going to Banjul?
Maybe its time to let this ship go.
Can’t you jump ship to be a U.S. Marshall, too?

The uncertainty for the DS spouse is a constant refrain,
The long hours, TDYs and standing in the rain.
The worry at home when the dear agents abroad,
Protecting our missions, our livelihood, our jobs
But alas, we play this game each and every year,
Just waiting and waiting, and waiting to hear.

By the time all is set and the last chess move is made
Someone will have gone through many a tirade.
That job is gone, and that one, too, what is the DS agent to do?
A now post or the third PSP – isn’t it time for something new?
The powers that be, simply do not see
Just what a drag this process can be.

The black hole of bidding in the hands of a few,
Determine the destiny with nary a clue,
Of what this does to house and home,
When the prices drags on they’re drafting a tome.
Over half of the cohort still waiting to know,
Would there, could there be a miracle?

On Christmas eve with a visit from St. Nick,
Will they let us know they’ve gotten on the stick?

A Christmas dream or a Christmas wish,
Waiting for a handshake, oh the suspense!
The call hasn’t come and the spouse is a fright,
As the DS agent again goes off in the night,
But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight,
This systems gotta change, cause it just isn’t right!

katnispeeta

 

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@StateDept Cites 10 Cases Where Employees Were Placed on Admin Leave, See #10

Posted: 12:41 ET

 

3 FAM 3464 defines “Excuse Absence” (commonly known as administrative leave) as absence from duty administratively authorized or approved by the leave-approving officer and does not result in a charge in leave of any kind or in loss of basic salary. 3 FAM 3464.102 also provides for Conduct-Related Excused Absence “Excused absence may be directed in rare circumstances and when authorized as provided by 3 FAH-1 H-3461.2 when an investigation, inquiry, or disciplinary action regarding the employee’s conduct is pending, has been requested, or will be requested within 2 workdays, and the continued presence of the employee in the workplace may pose a threat to the employee or to others, or may result in loss of, or damage to, U.S. Government property, or may otherwise jeopardize legitimate U.S. Government interests.”

According to grievance records, during the discovery phase of FSGB No. 2015-029, the State Department provided grievant with a spread sheet identifying 10 cases in which employees were placed on administrative leave pursuant to 3 FAM 3464.1.-2.

Via FSGB:  We quote the stated reasons for the administrative leave as follows (with numbering added):

  • 1) Ongoing investigation. Employee admitted to taking extra passport applications from courier beyond allowed quota. . . . (3 separate cases);
  • 2) Arrest based on violation of protective order;
  • 3) Allegations of misconduct and alcohol consumption while at US Embassy;
  • 4) Employee’s clearance suspended – reasons unknown. Employee failed to meet DS for compelled interview;
  • 5) By letter dated 11/14/13, PSS notified her of suspension of clearance. . . . ;
  • 6) Security Clearance suspended by DS. . . . ;
  • 7) DS investigating employee fraud/impersonating supervisor to obtain federal housing benefits;
  • 8) Arrested on child pornography charges. (no indication employee used USG equipment);
  • 9) Incident resulting in death of Ambassador and others. Admin leave while office evaluates appropriate action (3 separate cases);
  • 10) Employee investigated based on allegations of the rape of 2 women.

Grievant lacks any basis for asserting that the AL granted in these other cases did not serve USG “interests.” Those interests are broad, going far beyond the obvious trauma and safety issues as to other employees. Realistically, all 10 cases (based on the brief descriptions given in the record) invoked some type of governmental interest that was rather self-evident, e.g., stopping an employee from impersonating a supervisor or investigating the actual suspension of someone’s security clearance.21 The bottom line is that the Department’s decisions to grant AL to other persons who were subject to various investigations is not even pertinent to the grievant, [REDACTED].

The FSGB finds that “administrative leave is not an entitlement that would provide the grievant with certain safeguards, but is instead a prerogative administered by management to meet the needs of the Service.”

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Sexual Assault Related posts:

 

FBI to Veteran Diplomat Robin Raphel: “Do you know any foreigners?” #criminalizingdiplomacy

Posted: 1:29  pm ET

 

We’ve posted previously about Ambassador Robin Raphel in this blog. See Case Against Veteran Diplomat Robin Raphel Ends Without Charges, Who’s Gonna Say Sorry?. Also below:

Today, the Wall Street Journal runs an extensive account of what happened and why this case is a concerning one for American diplomats:

The NSA regularly swept up Pakistani communications “to, from or about” senior U.S. officials working in the country. Some American officials would appear in Pakistani intercepts as often as once a week. What Raphel didn’t realize was that her desire to engage with foreign officials, the very skill set her supervisors encouraged, had put a target on her back.

The FBI didn’t have a clear picture of where Raphel fit on the State Department organizational chart. She was a political adviser with the rank of ambassador but she wasn’t a key policy maker anymore. She seemed to have informal contacts with everyone who mattered in Islamabad—more, even, than the sitting ambassador and the CIA station chief.

[…]
State Department officials said that when they spoke to the FBI agents, they had the feeling they were explaining the basics of how diplomats worked.

At times, Raphel’s colleagues pushed back—warning the FBI that their investigation risked “criminalizing diplomacy,” according to a former official who was briefed on the interviews.

In one interview, the agents asked James Dobbins, who served as SRAP from 2013 to 2014, whether it was OK for Raphel to talk to a Pakistani source about information that wasn’t restricted at the time, but would later be deemed classified.

“If somebody tells you something in one conversation, you might write that up and it becomes classified,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean the next time you see them that you can’t talk about what you’d already talked about.”

[…]

Over the past two years, diplomats in Pakistan and the U.S. have scaled back contacts, according to officials in both countries. U.S. diplomats say they are afraid of what the NSA and the FBI might hear about them.

“What happened to Raphel could happen to any of us,” said Ryan Crocker, one of the State Department’s most highly decorated career ambassadors. Given the empowerment of law enforcement after 9/11 and the U.S.’s growing reliance on signals intelligence in place of diplomatic reporting, he said, “we will know less and we will be less secure.”

“Look what happened to the one person who was out talking to people,” said Dan Feldman, Raphel’s former boss at State. “Does that not become a cautionary tale?”

[…]

Diplomatic Security had yet to restore her security clearance. Some of her friends at the State Department said they believed the FBI opposed the idea.

Kerry and Raphel stood close together for only a couple of minutes. On the sidelines of the noisy gathering, Kerry leaned over and whispered into Raphel’s ear: “I am sorry about what has happened to you.”

Read in full below:

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Diplomatic Security Highlights History, and More in 100th Anniversary Video

Posted: 12:22 am ET

 

We’ve previously blogged about diversity and harassment issues at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (See Dear @JohnKerry: One of Your Foggy Bottom Folks Is Asking — Is This Diversity?POTUS Issues Memo Promoting Diversity and Inclusion, and @StateDept Sounds Like Baghdad BobPDAS Miller Issues Sexual Harassment Message to Diplomatic Security Employees, What’s Missing?).

DS recently released a video celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Diplomatic Security Service.  The original investigative office was called the Bureau of Secret Intelligence. Later, the organization evolved into the Office of the Chief Special Agent, then the Office of Security (SY), then became the Diplomatic Security Service. Click here to view the newly released “DSS Then & Now – The First Century of the Diplomatic Security Service” photo history book (PDF).

The video below includes the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and  Director of the Diplomatic Security Service Bill MillerVictor Dikeos, former Director of Security (1974-1978), and the following DS employees in order of their appearance: Wendy Bashnan, Special Agent in Charge; Steven Antoine, Asst Special Agent in Charge; Mark Baker, Special Agent; Shane Morris, Diplomatic Courier; Kendall Beels, Special Agent; and Luis Matus, Deputy Regional Director, High Threat Program.

The DS video featured nine former and current employees including two female DS agents and one female DS courier.  DS has previously used Agent Bashnan in another PR brochure, A Global Force: Agent Profile.  Shane Morris was the Diplomatic Courier of the Year for 2011. Kendall Beels was one of the two DS agents who shut down a massive U.S. visa fraud ring operating in the tri-state area of New York City and was awarded the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation (FLEF) Investigators of the Year Award in 2006.

1916 – 2016

By the way, A Global Force: Agent Profile brochure says that “For women who choose Diplomatic Security as a career, there are no limits to how far you can go.”  Also that “Diversity is one of the greatest strengths of Diplomatic Security.”  

Folks who want to rate this in Pinocchios are welcome to do so in the comment space.

 

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Dear @JohnKerry: One of Your Foggy Bottom Folks Is Asking — Is This Diversity?

Posted: 1:25 pm ET
Note: In an ideal, healthy organization, this letter would be signed by the author and you’d be reading this and discussing creative solutions on the Secretary’s Sounding Board.  What is clear to us is that the fears of reprisal/retaliation are real. This anonymous letter is one more proof of that.  Except for the four active hyperlinks we’ve added to help readers, the text and photo below are published below as received —

 

From an anonymous DS Employee: Is This Diversity?

A poignant piece in the President’s Memorandum on Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the National Security Workforce was the conclusion that “In broad comparison with the wider Federal Government, the federal workforce dedicated to our national security and foreign policy is – on average – less diverse, including at the highest levels.”  Unfortunately, when it comes to the highest levels of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) diversity is not only less than the average – – it is nonexistent!

ds-top-ranks

A review of the facts.

DS senior leadership is composed of an Assistant Secretary, a Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, seven Deputy Assistant Secretaries, an Executive Director, and a Coordinator for Security Infrastructure.  Four years ago all of these positions with the exception of the AS were held by active Senior Foreign Service and Senior Executive Service officers.  Two positions were held by female officers and one by a African-American officer.  In the past three years, all three minority members either retired or moved into other positions outside of DS.  Eight of the ten senior leadership positions have become vacant during that time, some more than once, and the current PDAS – Bill Miller, who became subject to Time-in-Class (TIC) restrictions and left active service – was appointed into the PDAS role.

Of the ten opportunities that DS has had to select officers to fill vacancies at the Bureau’s senior-most positions it has consistently selected Caucasian male officers. DS went from a Bureau that from a diversity standpoint was about where the rest of the government is now – less diverse than the average – to one that is now all white, all male, all the time.

We have witnessed the cleansing of DS over the past three years.  It is troubling, and, it should be raising alarm bells throughout the Department.

But is it not.

Instead, the Department is preparing to reward DSS Director Miller with a third appointment year as PDAS of DS.  Furthermore, DS is now expanding the practice of appointing officers subject to TIC up or out restrictions into positions formerly held exclusively by active SFS officers with the appointment of the outgoing Overseas Security Advisory Council Office Director into his own position, as an appointee. This was accomplished quietly, with the Department’s concurrence, devoid of any semblance of transparency.

The lack diversity is not limited to the FE-MC/OC and SES level officers who make up DS’s Senior Leadership.  It also extends to the subordinate staffs.  Unlike the Assistant Secretary’s DS Front Office, which to Gregory Starr’s credit has consistent been composed of a highly qualified and richly diverse staff, the PDAS’ DSS FO has been anything but.  To this day, the DSS FO staff with the exception of the Office Manager consists of…all white males.  One DS Senior sets a model for the Bureau to emulate, the other projects a do as I say not as I do standard.

In May, PDAS Miller brought most of the DS leadership from around the globe to the Department for a two-day leadership forum.  On day two he showcased his all-white, all-male team of seniors on the dais for a full day of Q&As. The one area the PDAS and the rest in the dais were unprepared to discuss were the stream of questions on the topic of diversity that were raised throughout the day and which went largely unaddressed.

It is difficult to reconcile Director General Arnold Chacon’s statements about Department values and principles, and ensuring that the Department’s workforce reflect the nation’s richness and diversity, when matched against the reality of the past three years within DS.  Even more difficult considering that all senior-most assignments in DS require the approval of Department Seniors.

In response, the Department should:

  • first and foremost, acknowledge that there is an appalling lack of diversity in the senior-most ranks of DS that should jar the Department’s Leadership into action to identity immediate steps to rectify the issue;
  • either instill a sense of urgency in current DS Leadership on the topic or allow the next set of leaders to rise to the top positions, with a renewed sense of purpose and focus that truly embraces the ideals that the Department publishes;
  • if the current PDAS is to remain in place for another year, an officer from the Office of Civil Rights should be permanently assigned to his Front Office to help guide him on matters of inclusivity and diversity;
  • mandate that DS develop and publicly publish a comprehensive diversity strategy;
  • understand that it shares in the responsibility for the current state within DS;
  • also, understand the likelihood that this letter will evoke a backlash from those who have been criticized and take steps to guard against the potential for retribution.
A series of conscious decisions led to the current state of DS. This is written in part as a call for accountability. It is also written in the hope that it will trigger action and a sense among the increasingly disenfranchised segment of DS that it is ok to voice concern even when aimed at our most senior leadership.
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Why Did Diplomatic Security Compile a Short-List of DS Agents Leaving For the U.S. Marshals Service?

Posted: 3:30 am ET

 

On October 4, we wrote about DS agents fleeing Diplomatic Security in droves for the U.S. Marshals Service.  On October 14, we did a follow-up piece, Is Diplomatic Security, the State Department’s Law Enforcement Arm Trying to Break the Law? Today, we’ll talk about the list.

As we’ve previously reported, in addition to the alleged warning that DS agents who leave for the U.S. Marshals will not be allowed back into the agency (contrary to 5 USC § 2302(b) and 3 FAM 2130), a State Department official speaking on background shared with us a short-list of DS agents leaving the bureau for the U.S. Marshals Service. The list is allegedly compiled at the direction of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Front Office. We were given the names of the people allegedly involved in this mess but we do not have a paper trail of who said what to who, or who did what for whom so we are not publishing those names at this time. There should be record emails if/when Inspector General Linick decides to look into this matter.

The List:  Where did it come from?

A source with detailed knowledge of the USMS lateral hiring program told us that USMS HR sent out an email but did not blind carbon copy (BCC) the distribution.  It was therefore easy to recognize many names as well as identify agency affiliation as some folks did use their state.gov email addresses. Our source suggested that this same email could have made its way to the DS Front Office and may have been the origin of the list. Even granted that this might have been what actually happened, somebody still had to compile that list.

The 30 names on the list includes 19 Special Agents (SA) assigned domestically, 6 Assistant Regional Security Officers (ARSO) assigned overseas, 1 agent from an unidentified office and 4 agents with the Mobile Security Deployments (MSD).  We don’t know how many agents from this list have now successfully transferred to USMS but we’ve since learned that two of the first agents to leave were just given Superior Honor awards for a human trafficking case. So let’s dispel with the notion that these folks walking out the door are  low-performers.

The list is on a 6-column spreadsheet, and includes each DS agent’s name, current assignment, future rotational assignment and/or TED dates.  While there is great concern that the list has a retaliatory intent, we have to grant that there could be other reasons for the bureau to compile such a list. But what? That’s why we asked Diplomatic Security 1) why this list was compiled, 2) what is its purpose, and 3) why DS/IP is reportedly consulting this list during pre-assignment deliberations? But the bureau was mum on this and we received the same non-response to our questions:

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

We’ve sharpied out the last names and all locations outside of DC from the list below because these folks could be easily identifiable in overseas posts and non-DC domestic locations.  If the list was born from a USMS HR email, the other details below particularly rotation information could have only come from State Department systems.

recd_usmsapplicantlist

 

The List: What is it for?

It is alleged that the purpose of this list is retaliation. Whether real or perceived, we understand that there are agents with conditional offers who are now considering withdrawal from the USMS process for fear of being blacklisted or blackballed when it comes to promotions and assignments.  The State Department official who shared the list with us also mentioned assignments and promotions as real concerns and said that though this may sound petty, the bureau can retaliate against these agents through denial of domestic assignments to areas where their families live, denial of overseas assignments, denial of extensions to those assignments, as well as denial of tenure or promotions, etc. The official admits that there is “nothing concrete to support this assumption, just the overall experience of how the game goes.”  That comment in itself is concerning.  It indicates that retaliation is not an isolated action within the bureau, but something that employees view as part of the system and even come to expect as part of a “normal” institutional reaction.

We’ve learned that as concerns for this list mounted later this summer, one official associated with the compilation of this list was removed from his position and a DS Broadcast announced that “effective immediately” a new agent was filling his position. Whether the removal was just coincidence, it did not seem to abate the concerns and fears about the list.

One might argue — and we’re trying hard to find a good argument here — that perhaps the list is just a heads up to the top leadership about folks the bureau is losing to the U.S. Marshals Service.  Or maybe the list was just a harmless “hey look at these co-workers we have to send congratulation cards to.” Okay. Fine. But as far as we know, no one from the top leadership has explained the reason for the list even as it has roiled its rank and file. And there was that alleged warning at UNGA.

Also two things:

#1.  The compiled list is not/not of all DS agents leaving the bureau, but specifically, of all agents leaving the bureau for the U.S. Marshals Service. So they’re not looking at say, a projected attrition data but at a clearly defined group of employees.

#2. DS/IP, the office who has a final say on where agents end up overseas is allegedly consulting this list during pre-assignment consultations/deliberations. Whether true or not, that’s the story racing down the corridors.

So why did Diplomatic Security compile a short-list of DS agents leaving for the U.S. Marshals Service?  We have no good answer. And Diplomatic Security refuses to say. If  there’s a perfectly good reason for all this, the top leadership at Diplomatic Security has not done anything to address the real concerns that people have.

Blowing Up the Security Officers’ Attrition Rate

We were previously told by PA that the overall Special Agent attrition rate for 2015 was 3.66%.  We have since learned that this attrition rate is incorrect as this does not include the number of agents who leave DS for other federal agencies.

According to the State Department’s recently published data, the average annual attrition rate for security officers between 2011-2015 is 58 employees. This is the highest among Foreign Service specialists, by the way, followed by Office Management Specialists (OMS).  With a total force of approximately 2,000 special agents (including nearly 800 special agents posted in regional security offices at over 250 posts worldwide) that makes the average attrition rate in the last five years at 2.9%. The State Department projected that it will have an overall attrition of 296 (retirements and non–retirements) from FY2016 to FY2020; an annual average the next five years of 59 individuals or 2.9%. Note that since we’re using approximate and not the exact number of security officers, these numbers may be slightly off.

The departures for the U.S. Marshals Service would certainly spike that attrition number.  The USMS departures if/when concluded this year would already constitute 55% of the average annual attrition rate and could bump up this year’s attrition rate to 4.4%.  Except that if unconfirmed reports are true, these departures could go higher.  Apparently, there are also agents taking GS-9 and GS-10, entry-level positions with other law enforcement agencies.  We believed that the largest pool of security officers is in the  FS-03 rank which is equivalent in pay to GS-12/13. So if true that folks are taking a pay cut just so they could transfer to other agencies, there’s an even bigger problem at play here. Also how Diplomatic Security handle these departures could potentially have an impact on its projected attrition in the next five years.

ds-attrition-number

via state.gov

 

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Why no appropriate staffing for High Threat Posts? Here is one answer; you may not like it!

Posted: 3:14 pm PT

Updated: 9:25 pm EST
HTP/Africa #1:  One high threat post in Africa should have 3 Regional Security Officers (RSOs).  One rotated out of the position with no replacement. Then there were 2 RSOs. One went on medical evacuation. Then there was 1 RSO. “D.C. Has sent some TDY support when they can, but another permanent RSO is not coming for months.”

Updated: Oct 16, 2016 6:55 pm EST
HTP/Africa #2:  Serving at an HTP Africa post and our Regional Security Office is understaffed and has been for ages. For a while we had the ARSO as our only full time RSO with a lot of TDY coming through but we never had the mandated three RSOs in the office. It would seem the ARSO is good at their job but don’t we deserve an actual RSO at the helm if we are a High Threat Post?

Last week, we received a Burn Bag asking, “Why are our most threatened missions not getting appropriate security staffing?” We are reposting the Burn Bag item below:

“Someone  needs to ask DS leadership why the bureau with the greatest growth  since Nairobi and Benghazi is not fully staffing it’s positions at High Threat  Posts.  I mean DS created an entire new office to manage High Threat posts so  why are our most threatened missions not getting appropriate security staffing? At my post, which is designated as Hight Threat, the two ARSO positions have  been vacant for more than a year.   I understand from colleagues that numerous  other posts have similar significant security staffing gaps.  DS agents leaving for agencies (as reported by Diplopundit) is not going to help what appears to be a significant DS personnel shortage.  Does DS  or the Department have a plan to fix whatever the issues are?”

One reason why Diplomatic Security is not fully staffing its vacancies at High Threat Posts maybe that it is refusing to panel agents who came back through the reinstatement process. Even if those agents have apparently told DS that they are willing to fill these critical need vacancies.

We are now just learning that prior to this mass departures of DS agents for the U.S. Marshals Service (where there was a warning that departing agents will not be allowed back) Diplomatic Security has already refused to panel agents who came back to Diplomatic Security through the reinstatement process. We understand that the Bureau of Human Resources has processed these employees for reinstatement, but Diplomatic Security is refusing to panel the reappointed employees for High Threat priority staffing positions where there are unfilled positions. For those not in the FS, an Assignment Panel is established for the  purpose of reviewing the bids and qualifications of employees for assignment to domestic and overseas positions, and make recommendations on who should go where.

So there are HTP posts with vacancies, there are folks willing to go, but DS refuses to consider these folks for the HTP vacancies. Does that even make sense? We would loved to have Diplomatic Security elaborate their thinking on this. No, not because we are nosy but because even insider folks cannot make heads or tails of what’s going on. And because we have reporting from at least one HTP post saying hey, we are in an HTP post and our two vacancies for security officers have been unfilled for over a year!  Over a year! How many other HTP posts are in a similar pickle? We are collecting information on how many HTP posts  have not been fully staffed. Contact us here.

 

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