Burn Bag: Worst bidding season EVER — time to scratch the whole system and start over?

Via Burn Bag:

“Bidding never made much sense but this year seems so much worse it really seems time to scratch the whole system and start over.  After a training cycle, PSP cycle, DCM cycle, and all the back room deals, plus three different websites including FSBid and the SharePoint sites for EUR and everyone else ( what’s up with that?), it’s a wonder anyone who makes it to any assignment is actually qualified for it.  Has there ever been an OIG inspection on bidding?”

computerslam

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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
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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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POTUS Issues Memo Promoting Diversity and Inclusion, and @StateDept Sounds Like Baghdad Bob

Posted: 1:47 am ET
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On October 5, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the National Security Workforce. Below is an excerpt:

Currently, more than three million military and civilian personnel in the U.S. Government are engaged in protecting the country and advancing our interests abroad, through diplomacy, development, defense, intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security.  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.

While this data does not necessarily indicate the existence of barriers to equal employment opportunity, the Presidential Memorandum outlines a number of actions that will allow departments and agencies to better leverage the diversity and inclusion of the federal workforce, consistent with the existing merit system and applicable law, including:

#Collection, analysis, and dissemination of workforce data: Data is an essential tool to help departments and agencies identify workforce talent gaps, assess the efficiency and effectiveness of their diversity and inclusion efforts, and promote transparency and accountability. The memorandum provides guidance for departments and agencies to make key workforce data available to the general public, provide an annual report to their leadership and workforce on the status of diversity and inclusion efforts, expand the use of applicant flow data to assess the fairness and inclusiveness of their recruitment efforts, and identify any additional demographic categories they recommend for voluntary data collection.

#Provision of professional development opportunities and tools consistent with merit system principles: Providing access to professional development opportunities consistent with merit system principles is a key element to retaining and developing a diverse and inclusive workforce. The memorandum directs departments and agencies to engage their workforce through regular interviews to understand their views on workplace policies and why they choose to stay or leave, prioritize the expansion of professional development opportunities including programs specifically designed to develop the next generation of career senior executives, and implement a review process for decisions related to certain assignment or geographic restrictions.

# Strengthening of leadership engagement and accountability: The memorandum recognizes the critical role that senior leadership and supervisors play in fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce and cultivating talent consistent with merit system principles. It encourages departments and agencies to reward and recognize efforts by senior leaders and supervisors to participate in mentorship, sponsorship, and recruitment; to disseminate voluntary demographic data for external committee and boards that advise the leadership of an agency; and to expand the provision of training on implicit or unconscious bias, inclusion, and flexible work policies.

The full text of the memo is available here.

The State Department’s top HR person Arnold Chacon forwarded President Obama’s message to agency employees encouraging them to read the memo and learn of government-wide efforts:

Today the President issued a new Presidential Memorandum providing guidance on the implementation of policies to promote diversity and inclusion in the national security workforce. Under the leadership of Deputy Secretary Higginbottom the Department has been an integral part of this effort. It’s consistent with our values and the principles enshrined in the Foreign Service Act of 1980 and other legislation. As outlined in the QDDR under Secretary Kerry’s leadership, we’ll continue to work to promote a diverse, capable, agile workforce that can advance America’s interests and values in the 21st century.

I believe strongly that we have no greater resource than our people. As the face of America to the world, we have a responsibility to ensure the Department’s workforce reflects our nation’s richness and diversity. I encourage you to read the White House fact sheet below and the Presidential Memorandum to learn more about government-wide efforts to strengthen diversity and inclusion at all levels.


Waaaaa! When the State Department sounds like Baghdad Bob!

The statement says, this has been so “consistent with our values and the principles enshrined in the Foreign Service Act of 1980” that it was impossible to pry the gender and diversity data from the State Department (a 2013 stats was made available to AFSA). For years we’re been looking at the State Department to make available publicly its diversity statistics, most particularly the gender and race component of its promotion statistics (see related posts below). Somebody from Secretary Kerry’s office once told us he would look into it and then we never heard anything back despite periodic reminders.  Data is available annually, just not available publicly.

Last April 2016, the Senate passed a bill (introduced in June 2015) that would require the State Department to report on diversity recruitment, employment, retention, and promotion.  That same month, just days before the Senate passed S.1635, the State Department dumped online its promotion data for 2015 (see @StateDept Dumps Online the 2015 FS Promotion Statistics Including Diversity Data, Have a Look!). The way HR presented this data –particularly the one on diversity and cone — is enough to give you migraine.  But what happened to the previous years’ data? Is the State Department going to wait until Congress forces it to publish promotion data going back three fiscal years?

Patricia Kushlish of WhirledView wrote two posts Lies, Damned lies and non-comparable statistics: reporting diversity at the State Department and More than Undiplomatic Moments: State’s Diversity Record Remains Behind a Hard Line that are both worth a read.

 

Talking the Talk, But Where’s the Walk?

The DGHR cites “the leadership of Deputy Secretary Higginbottom” his boss’s boss and the State Department as “an integral part of this effort.” He further cites “the QDDR under Secretary Kerry’s leadership” as the State Department “continue to work to promote a diverse, capable, agile workforce that can advance America’s interests and values in the 21st century.”

Look, first — remember back in 2014 we posted about FSO Margot Carrington’s paper on Advancement for Women at State: Learning From Best Practices? That report was written during a sabbatical sponsored by the Una Chapman Cox (UCC) Foundation and the State Department (see Advancement for Women at the State Department: Learning From Best Practices). The paper includes multiple recommendations including the collection of detailed attrition data and exit interviews to better understand the factors leading to attrition/retention; training and other assistance to women to help them learn to network more effectively and solicit sponsors to help them in their career development and advancement; mitigating unconscious bias; mentoring requirement for all SFS officers and making them accountable for their performance as mentors, to cite a few. Wasn’t the State Department’s “integral” participation in this WH effort informed by the report done by Ms. Carrington? Yes? No? Never heard of it?

WhirledView once asked, “Why is it that Foreign Service recruitment is able to recruit entry level classes that are far more representative of the American population as a whole but the further an individual advances up the career ladder the fewer the women and minorities are found.”  That is a really good question and top officials at State should be able to answer that. And what would have been most useful in that DGHR statement?  Had DGHR included information on what the State Department has done or is planning to do in support of promoting diversity and inclusion. What programs and accommodations is it doing to improved D&I at the agency?  Since the State Department was an “integral” part of President Obama’s effort why not talk about what is the State Department doing in terms of collection, analysis, and dissemination of workforce data? What is it doing in support of strengthening leadership engagement and accountability?   What is it doing in support of  professional development to improve opportunities for women and promote a more diverse leadership?

Because after reading and admiring the government-wide D&I efforts–  then what?

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Oh Damn and Blast! @StateDept’s Administrative Leave Data Is One Hot Mess

Posted: 3:32 am ET
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According to State/OIG, administrative leave is granted to employees as an authorized absence from duty without loss of pay or use of leave for various reasons unrelated to employee conduct, such as blood donations and weather-related closures. It may also be granted to employees who are under investigation for misconduct.  Senator Charles Grassley asked State/OIG for a description of the State Department’s administrative leave policies and the controls in place to prevent extensive use of administrative leave. On October 3, State/OIG posted online its report, Department of State Has Administrative Leave Policies but Lacks Complete and Accurate Data on the Use of Leave.

In response to the congressional request, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) evaluated the use of administrative leave at the Department of State (Department). The objectives of the evaluation were (1) to describe the Department’s administrative leave policies and (2) to determine the amount of administrative leave Department employees used from January 2011 to January 2015 and the circumstances surrounding the use of such leave.

State/OIG obtained data on administrative leave granted to Department employees from 2011 through 2015 from the Bureau of Human Resources (HR). For several of these employees, OIG also reviewed select records from the Time and Attendance Telecommunications Line (TATEL) system, the Department’s time and attendance tracking system.

Excerpt from OIG report:

  • At the Department of State, administrative leave can be authorized in 26 circumstances not related to conduct. Employees under investigation for misconduct may also be placed on administrative leave if their continued presence in the workplace may pose a threat to the employee or to others, may result in loss of or damage to government property, or may otherwise jeopardize legitimate government interests. Conduct- related administrative leave over 16 hours may only be granted by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Human Resources.
  • OIG intended to determine the amount of administrative leave used by Department employees from January 2011 to January 2015 and the circumstances surrounding the use of such leave. However, the Department did not provide OIG with sufficient data to make these determinations. Consequently, OIG is unable to make any assessments about the Department’s use of administrative leave. OIG identified two key deficiencies in the data the Department provided: (1) the Department lacks a centralized source of information regarding the justification for why administrative leave is granted and (2) HR data on the hours of administrative leave used conflicts with data from individual employing offices.

Administrative Leave Not Related to Conduct: 26 Circumstances

  • There are 26 circumstances not related to conduct where administrative leave can be authorized. These circumstances include Federal holidays, voting, hazardous weather conditions, packing.unpacking, blood/organ donation, funerals, time zone dislocation adjustment period to name a few and several miscellaneous reasons like group dismissals for a reasonable period due to extreme climatic conditions; civil disturbance; transportation failure; breakdown of heating/cooling systems; natural disaster, etc.; jury duty; and absence due to an injury incurred while serving abroad and resulting from war, insurgency, mob violence or hostile action.  The amount of time authorized by the FAM and the FAH for administrative leave in these circumstances varies from one hour to one year.
State/HR’s Unreliable Data
  • In response to OIG’s request for information on administrative leave granted to Department employees, HR provided a report created by CGFS using TATEL data transferred to the payroll system. According to this data, the Department recorded 8.36 million hours of administrative leave for 33,205 employees from January 2011 to January 2015; however, their data was unreliable. Specifically, OIG identified two key deficiencies in the data that the Department provided. […] Currently, the only way to determine the justification for an employee’s administrative leave is to review the timesheet, ask the employee, or ask the employing bureau. The Department is currently updating its payroll systems, including modernization of its time and attendance systems. Once this project is completed, there will be more information available on specific uses of administrative leave. However, there is no expected completion date for the project.
  • OIG selected the 100 employees with the most hours of recorded administrative leave based on HR’s data and requested the justification from the applicable employing bureaus.17 According to the data provided by HR, these 100 employees recorded over 320,000 hours of administrative leave during the period under evaluation. However, after reviewing the information the bureaus provided, OIG found that administrative leave hours reported by HR were incorrect for 84 of these 100 employees (84 percent). Four of the employees were on work-related travel as opposed to on administrative leave. The other 80 employees were at work on regular duty between January 2011 and January 2015—with the exception of holidays, scheduled sick and annual leave, and weather-related closures—and their time and attendance records maintained by their employing bureau did not support the large amounts of administrative leave indicated by the HR data. OIG interviews with several employees and supervisors corroborated this information.
  • Although HR officials told OIG that timekeeping error was the most likely source of the discrepancies between the HR data and the information provided by the employing bureaus,19 reports from TATEL reviewed by OIG demonstrated that timekeeper error does not explain the entirety of the large balances of the administrative leave indicated by the HR data.20

Administrative Leave Related to Conduct

  • OPM guidance states that administrative leave should be used only as “an immediate, temporary solution to the problem of an employee who should be kept away from the worksite.”13 OPM also recommends that administrative leave “should not be used for an extended or indefinite period or on a recurring basis” and agencies should “consider other options prior to use of administrative leave.”
  • Department policies follow this guidance and contain several controls to ensure that administrative leave is used only as a temporary solution for employees who should be kept out of the workplace. The FAM defines conduct-related administrative leave as leave authorized “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
  • The Deputy Assistant Secretary told OIG that he and his staff carefully scrutinize each request to ensure that there is sufficient documentation that an employee’s continued presence in the workplace poses an actual problem. They also encourage the bureau to explore other alternatives and have, in some cases, referred the issue to the Office of Civil Rights, the Office of the Ombudsman, or the Bureau of Medical Services. The Deputy Assistant Secretary has disapproved administrative leave requests when alternatives exist or when there is insufficient documentation of a problem.
  • Even when HR approves a request for administrative leave, leave is only authorized for a 30 day maximum. According to HR, this incremental approach ensures that it will reevaluate the employee’s status periodically to determine whether administrative leave continues to be necessary. HR identified three main justifications to place an employee on administrative leave for over 16 hours:
  1. loss of security clearance
  2. medical-related issues
  3. violence or threatening conduct

63,000 Hours in a 4-Year Period

  • Despite these deficiencies, OIG found that more complete information exists for employees on conduct-related administrative leave. For example, sixteen of the 100 employees OIG reviewed had accurately recorded administrative leave and 15 of these were conduct-related cases. For each of these cases, HR confirmed that it had followed Department policy in granting administrative leave to ensure that the employee’s continued presence in the workplace posed a serious problem. These employees represented approximately 63,000 hours of administrative leave in the four-year period
  • According to HR, one of the reasons for these large balances is the difficulty in finding alternative work assignments or locations for employees who are on administrative leave because their security clearances have been suspended. The nature of the Department’s work limits the number of positions for which a security clearance is not required. Department offices may have unclassified work that employees can perform, but those employees would have to be escorted and monitored because most offices are secure spaces. Furthermore, employees who have had their clearances suspended may pose a risk even in unclassified areas.

The original report is posted here (PDF), or read in full below (click on the arrow at the lower right hand side of the box below to maximize view).

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Aparecium! Why do plum jobs suddenly appear just days before bids are due?

Posted: 12:57 am ET
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So hey, we’re hearing that three posts “snuck” onto the 2017 Details/ Training list last week – London, Wellington, and Rome. These are all MFA exchanges where you spend a year in that country’s MFA followed by a three year posting at the Embassy, so essentially a four year posting to a nice place.  Bids on these plum jobs are due on September 28 and involve getting reference letters, statements of interest, resumes — all uploaded online.

What we understand is unusual about this is that all the other training opportunities have been on the list since May. (Another source told us that Brussels, Berlin, and Ankara were the only ones on the regular bid cycle for details in June).  Which gives bidders without fore knowledge about these new opportunities approximately two weeks to get their act together if they want to make the 9/28 cut.

The other interesting aspect here is that early “handshakes” to people going to priority staffing posts (PSP) were apparently already offered a couple of weeks ago or so.  “All the people who would have had priority and would have surely loved to have bid on one of these posts simply could not” because these were not posted until a few days ago.

Via reactiongifs.com

Via reactiongifs.com

A Foggy Bottom nightingale believed that a lot more people would bid on these jobs if they knew they’re on the list. But the 2017 Details/ Training list has been out since late spring. So who’s paying attention?  Particularly at this time — just days before bids are due — when most people’s attention is on the big list. That is, the summer 2017 bid list that’s going to drop this week.

“Maybe if these plum jobs were publicized, more qualified bidders would act on them,” said by nobody at all.

So the clock’s ticking, there’s still 10 days to make the case for a post in London, Wellington, or Rome. Good luck, y’all!

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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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Burn Bag: Another Senior Cede Request, and It’s Not Even in FSBid? (Updated)

Via Burn Bag:

“There’s a senior cede request for Deputy Executive Director in Consular Affairs, and it’s not even in FSBid.”

Note: Told via Twitter that this is bidlisted. Burn Bag entries are taken “as is” so you folks can look it up if you have access to the system.

Updated on March 12, 2016 from Burn Bag correction received: “Oops!  Misread some info.  Consular Affairs Deputy Executive Director was in fact in FSBid, just with incomplete info.  Pls consider removal.  Sincere regrets for the error.”

 

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Restoring Faith in the Foreign Service Assignment System Starts With Talking About It

Posted: 1:27 am EDT
Updated: 2:52 a.m. EDT
Updated March 12, 2016

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We understand that the State Department has just finished up a big online survey on how to improve the Foreign Service bidding process. One part of the survey apparently includes improving the process through “increase transparency.”  Well, it seems it seeks to improve transparency for the bureaus so they can tell who is actually a serious bidder, but it does not improve transparency for the FS employees who are doing the bidding. That part appears to have been short-circuited so unless DGHR starts looking at the whole system, the process is not going to significantly improve for everyone except the bureau folks who are tasked with selecting the employees rotating in.

Now that we’re thinking about the bidding process …. remember last year when we wrote about the controversy about who’s going to be the next Consul General in Istanbul (see Whoa! The Next Consul General in Istanbul Will Be a Political Appointee? and Coming Soon to PBS — That CG Istanbul Position Is Apparently Another Foggy Bottom Drama)?  The March issue of the Foreign Service Journal includes a Speaking Out piece by career diplomat Matthew Keene who has been in the Foreign Service since 1999.  According to FSJ, the author has previously worked in the Office of Career Development and Assignments in the Bureau of Human Resources as a special assistant and an assignments officer.  His piece mentions our blogpost although it does not specifically mention the USCG Istanbul position.

He notes the “tenacity with which many CDOs and AOs argue at panel on behalf of their clients and their bureaus”  and concludes that “these people care about you and the organization, and they are fiercely protective of the integrity of the assignments process.” But the Speaking Out piece also does not mince words about the problems with the Foreign Service assignments.  Excerpt below:

Last November, the blogger known as “Diplopundit” published a story about the assignment of a well-connected FS-1 as principal officer in a European Bureau post, a Senior Foreign Service position.

Since the candidate was below grade for the position, this was a “stretch assignment,” which requires the division in the Bureau of Human Resources responsible for the career development and assignment of officers who are FS-1 or higher (HR/CDA/SL) to cede the position to the division responsible for mid-level officers (HR/CDA/ML) after canvassing its clients to gauge interest in the position by currently unassigned officers.

That no qualified Senior FSO bid on a position as prominent as this one frankly strains credulity. The episode underscores a serious perception problem when it comes to Foreign Service assignments. For all the State Department’s carefully crafted standard operating procedures, as well as the Foreign Affairs Manual and Foreign Affairs Handbook guidance—to say nothing of the attention paid to precedent and the needs of the Service—when push comes to shove, getting the best jobs depends far more on who you know than what.

Indeed, if you are fortunate enough to breathe the rarefied air in the front office of a highly regarded assistant secretary or another sixth- or seventh-floor denizen, there is almost no position to which you cannot aspire.
[…]
So how do ridiculous stretch assignments happen, then? Why do positions mysteriously vanish off one bid list only to reappear days later on the list of a future cycle—or on the now list? Why are inquiries on jobs that are ostensibly open in FS Bid dismissed or unanswered? Why was some employee allowed to extend for a fourth year in a non-differential post when no one else was permitted to do the same? And how on earth did that officer get a language waiver, when the FS is filled with officers who speak that language?

These anomalies are more likely to happen when HR is run by senior officers insufficiently committed to overseeing a system that is fair, just and above reproach. The fact is that far too often, those in the most important positions, the gatekeepers, aren’t serving out of any great love of personnel management work. Some are serving a domestic tour while awaiting a plum overseas deputy chief of mission or principal officer gig. Others find themselves serving domestically for personal reasons, and believe HR provides a convenient landing spot.

The author does not just point out the problems but also writes about how to restore faith in the system. “HR must do a far better job of recruiting senior leaders uncompromising in their commitment to an FS assignments system that sets an example for the rest of the Service in terms of integrity and transparency, that meets the needs of the Service, and that upholds core values even when it is uncomfortable or may disappoint someone further up the food chain.”

Less than a day after we posted this article, we heard via Burn Bag that there is a senior cede request for Deputy Executive Director in Consular Affairs. That position allegedly is not in FSBid. Deleted due to subsequent correction received.

We have to add that this is not just a serious perception problem, and of course, it disturbs more than just the rank and file in Human Resources.  A longtime diplomat who follows this blog told us that “the reason this sort of thing gets to me is that as diplomats we are constantly promoting merit-based decision-making, democracy and rule of law, and anti-corruption in countries where we serve, a very tough message when our own department flaunts these principles.” That is not an isolated perspective.

We admire Mr. Keene for writing this piece. It takes courage to do this in a culture where frank and straight discussions about uncomfortable issues doesn’t always get the safe space it needs.

Read the full More Hemingway, Less Kafka, Please.

Let’s face it, this secretary of state or the next, and next ones after that are not going to do anything about making this process better. They will all have a host of things to do, places to go, and strengthening the institution is not going to be on anyone’s top list.  So here’s something from the Lorax to think about.

 

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

Via Burn Bag:

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

idontgetitatall

 

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This Kind of Language Can Get One Suspended Without Pay in the Foreign Service

Posted: 1:25 am EDT
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In FSGB Nos. 2014-041, the grievant, an FS-02 Foreign Service Officer with the Department of State, appealed the agency-level grievance decision upholding her three-day suspension without pay for improper personal conduct and poor judgment.  While the FSGB reduced the penalty to a Letter of Reprimand, the FSO had to grieved the case before the reduction of penalty:

While grievant was serving as Public Affairs Officer (PAO) at a U.S. Embassy, the Assistant Public Affairs Officer (APAO) filed an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint alleging that grievant made numerous inappropriate and insensitive comments (many of which she overheard) – including several references to the national origin of some local and American employees; that she used harsh and profane language that made others uncomfortable in the workplace; and that she exhibited behavior that lacked professionalism, cultural sensitivity and good judgment. The EEO complaint triggered an Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) investigation during which about a dozen local and American employees of the embassy were interviewed and signed affidavits. The S/OCR report was forwarded to the Office of Human Resources (HR/ER). The Department proposed to suspend grievant for five days without pay based on charges of improper personal conduct (seven specifications) and poor judgment (four specifications). The Deciding Official did not sustain three of the four poor judgment specifications and mitigated the penalty to three days. Grievant filed an agency-level appeal, which was denied.

Here are the things the FSO said which made the Department charged the employee with improper personal conduct and poor judgment:

Specification 1 – Grievant asked the APAO: “What’s the name of the Chinese guy who came to borrow a recorder, who speaks bad English?”

Specification 2 – After a telephone conference with State Department staff in Washington, grievant said to the APAO: “What the hell is that woman doing in that position! She’s not even a real American!” On the following day, grievant allegedly said again: “but this woman is not a real American!”

Specification 3 – In describing to the APAO an event at a previous post involving a naturalized U.S. citizen, grievant stated: “. . . she has a U.S. passport, but she is not a true American. She was Asian. In fact, I think she was Vietnamese.”

Specification 4 – The APAO overheard grievant say – in responding to a question from an  REDACTED employee of the Embassy about the children born to immigrants to the U.S.: “[T]hose immigrants are coming to the U.S. and having babies. Even though they grow up in the States, they are not culturally American.” Her comment in the workplace where she could be overheard was inappropriate.

Specification 5 – In the presence of an American colleague, the APAO, and other local embassy employees grievant shouted into her cell phone, “You f—ing c–t! You already ate?! You didn’t wait for me!” Her use of profanity was inappropriate.

Specification 6 – An American colleague stated that at a social event hosted by a senior Embassy official he had asked what the hostess meant in saying that as a college student she had been a “little sister” in a fraternity. Grievant explained to him – in earshot of several expatriates — that “it means you don’t have a gag reflex.” The American colleague interpreted this to mean that the “little sister” was obliged to perform oral sex on members of the fraternity. In this situation grievant’s comment was inappropriate.

Specification 7 – An English Language Fellow (ELF) reported that in a conversation with the ELF in an embassy vehicle driven by an  REDACTED employee of the embassy, grievant referred to REDACTED as “stupid” and “slow.”

The FSGB in this case finds that “the Department has not proved seven of eight specifications, included in two charges that were the bases for its decision to suspend Grievant for three days. With respect to the penalty, the Board finds that it has inappropriately applied the charge of Discriminatory Harassment as an aggravating factor with respect to the sole specification that has been sustained. The Department is directed to reduce the penalty to no more than a Letter of Reprimand, and to advise the Board of its actions within 30 days of receipt of this Decision.”

Read in full here (PDF) or read below:

 

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