Burn Bag: @StateDept’s Reasonable Accommodation For a Pregnant Diplomatic Courier?

Via Burn Bag:

Pregnant diplomatic courier told to use a portable travel toilet, undress in the presence of LES driver and urinate in the back of the truck. This is the best accommodation her supervisor and DRAD* could come up with. Another example of **pregnancy discrimination that is running rampant in the State Department.

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Physical requirements  via careers.state.gov:

A Diplomatic Courier must have the physical endurance to withstand the physical stresses from working long hours, lack of sleep, extremes of heat or cold, and other discomforts and the physical strength to lift and move heavy and/or oversized items such as diplomatic pouches and crates that may weigh as much as 70 pounds or carry heavy equipment. A Diplomatic Courier is required to perform work that requires regular and recurring periods of prolonged sitting, standing, bending, and stretching and is often required to physically move and transport heavy items; that could involve climbing ladders and working in and around aircraft, trucks, trains, aboard ships, etc. Related activities include crawling, maneuvering, and working in cramped spaces.

3 FAM 3350 | LEAVE AND REASSIGNMENT OF DUTIES FOR MATERNITY AND PATERNITY REASONS

* HR/OAA/DRAD is the Disability and Reasonable Accommodations Division in the Office of Accessibility and Accommodations, Bureau of Human Resources at the State Department

** The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. See more: https://fam.state.gov/fam/03fah03/03fah030110.html#H112

 

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Accountability Review Board Cuba Is Coming – Duck and Cover!

 

The Accountabilty Review Board Cuba report is getting ready to drop. Some top folks may look like shit, justifiably, and a few others may as well though so far every senior person in the department is using the whole “I couldn’t do anything because Tillerson and Margaret centralized everything.”

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Burn Bag: Does @StateDept Really Care About Leadership Training?

Via Burn Bag:

FSI runs Intermediate Leadership Training all year, with a new section starting more or less every other week. That means there are slots for about 350-400 participants a year. There are currently 3,400 FS-02 FSOs alone – and significantly more civil service officers eligible for the course. This makes it nearly impossible to get into training. Despite the fact that promoted officers cannot be paid at their new rate of pay until they have completed mandatory leadership training, it is difficult to convince supervisors to provide time off and travel budget resources to complete leadership training during an overseas tour, and most FSOs are left to fight for the training during a PCS. Concerns about delaying the training are often met with eye rolls and tossed-off platitudes about how promotions are slowing and it will be “so long” before the officer is actually up for promotion that there’s no need to expend resources. But the transition season sections are the first to fill. Right now, every scheduled Intermediate Leadership section is full, and, according to the FSI registrar, every section has a long waitlist. At this point, it would take more than 10 years to get every 02 officer through training the Department mandates.

Those of us trying to find a way to get required training in time to avoid losing salary money wonder if anyone in the Department is even cognizant of the problem — let alone seeking a solution. If the Department is unable to provide mandatory training, HR should either suspend the requirement or take steps to expand training availability.

Via reactiongifs.com

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Burn Bag: The Foreign Service Should Thank Rex Tillerson

Note: We received the following letter as a submission to the Burn Bag. As most of our readers know, the Burn Bag submissions are by design short (though not always sweet) but we’ve decided that this letter merits an exception because it provides our readers a perspective that’s different from the currently prevailing one.

We do not know the identity of the writer but we have a few things that we can share with our readers. S/he is an FS-03 Foreign Service Officer who said s/he was dismayed by the latest public resignation that got so much media attention. S/he has previously served overseas in Asia and also in D.C. where s/he staffed various Department principals, witnessing first hand some of State’s long-standing problems. The writer understands that it would be better to attach her/his name to this piece, but wants to remain anonymous because his/her letter “is not about me, it is about showing that the Foreign Service is multi-dimensional and should not only be defined by Shackelford’s resignation letter.” For those interested, the Shackelford letter is here. Both letters are presented without comments. You are welcome to use the blog’s comment section for civil discussion. 

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The Foreign Service Should Thank Rex Tillerson

In his book Political Order and Political Decay, Francis Fukuyama makes a powerful argument that the “quality of the American government has been deteriorating steadily for more than a generation.” This is in stark contrast to alarmist news articles asserting that the State Department’s current problems began on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration. Leading the most recent and vocal charge, Foreign Service Officer Elizabeth Shackelford’s much publicized resignation letter has been touted as a symbol of plunging morale and dysfunction within the Department. Shackelford follows the narrative that Secretary Tillerson wants to gut State and diminish the role of diplomacy. Yet underlying these assertions is a misconception of what a healthy State Department looks like. They also fail to grasp interagency dynamics that outlast successive administrations.

In an example of unqualified assertions, former Counselor of the Department Eliot Cohen penned a recent op-ed skewering Secretary Tillerson’s redesign efforts as “management-jargon-laden reforms…that demoralized the Foreign Service.” I cannot argue with the recognition of a demoralized Foreign Service. Change is hard and selling it to our community of stakeholders has never been easy. Secretary Tillerson and his team have thus far failed to communicate the redesign’s benefits, but honestly, in the current politicized environment, would they have been able to? If the Foreign Service wants to reclaim our standing as non-partisan professionals, we should look at the problems the redesign is meant to address and work to shape the discussion, rather than opt out or disrupt from within.

Secretary Tillerson started his redesign by asking a simple question “what is the Department of State’s mission, and how can it best achieve goals and objectives?” While this can easily be dismissed as Diplomacy 101, it is a necessary question to ask. Unlike the military, the State Department operates at the behest of our political leadership and Congress. Inherent to both are special interests groups that back them. So while politicians breathe new life and ideas into the bureaucracy, over time they have also contributed to a dilution of State’s mission – heaping pet projects and cumbersome reports onto a Department unable to handle them. The result has been an erosion of State’s autonomy and increasing overlap between conflicting priorities. Every year we process over 300 congressionally mandated reports on topics ranging from intellectual property and labor issues to democracy promotion and counterterrorist financing. All of these issues have merit, yet how can an embassy advance broader U.S. interests when it has officers asking host governments to pass laws strengthening IPR protection, counterterrorist financing, and trafficking in persons all at the same time? The outward message gets diluted. If everything is a priority, nothing is.

The energy and zeal with which dedicated foreign and civil servants advance the various issues in their portfolio should be commended. Likewise, it is important to understand their frustration when a new administration determines that their work is no longer a priority. That said, creating a more streamlined, mission focused State Department will necessarily leave some stakeholders disillusioned. As we have seen, even the prospect of change has riled a bureaucracy that has grown accustomed to protecting its budgets and issue areas at the expense of broader coherency and efficiency. As a low-level FS-03, I do not claim to know what the Department’s priorities should be. But it is healthy for the Secretary to ask questions on whether we should promote democracy over institution building or freedom over good governance.

Shackelford’s assertion that high-level departures and resignations over the past year have handicapped U.S. diplomacy is misguided. For nearly a decade there has been a group of senior FSOs that have traded ambassadorships and leadership positions amongst each other, effectively blocking much needed generational change. While these FSOs all served with distinction and the way they were pushed out was unbecoming of their decades of service, we should not mourn their loss.

Cohen claims that Secretary Tillerson’s “incapacity at finding and pushing through appointees” crippled his effectiveness. And to that I ask, would Cohen prefer self-serving political hacks instead? While congressional and political oversight prevents bureaucracies from “running amuck,” political patronage has the opposite effect, usually serving to advance narrow short-term interests. In the United States political loyalty is rewarded with positions in government, often (but not always) to the detriment of bureaucratic autonomy and the ability to create long-term strategy. The fact that Secretary Tillerson chose to rely on FSOs in acting positions, elevating their status and providing them increased stature, demonstrates the value he places on their experience and expertise. When pundits complain about a leadership vacuum at the State Department, I have to wonder: where is the Foreign Service Association in standing up for career FSOs like Susan Thornton and Francisco Pamieri who have successfully led their respective bureaus?

So why, if Secretary Tillerson wants to reform the Department, has he enthusiastically embraced a 30% budget cut? Let’s start by looking at the role congress plays in forcing pet projects on the Department and reducing bureaucratic efficiency with a maze of regulations and mandated reports. Congressional micro-management has decreased State’s effectiveness, forcing skilled bureaucrats to spend time on creativity stifling administrative work rather than formulating policy and strategy. Funds for pet projects are cheered at the time they are allocated, but it takes people, time, and money to spend money. Once an initiative is introduced it becomes embedded in the bureaucracy and takes on a momentum that is difficult to reign in. Temporarily cutting funds is one of the best ways to force difficult decisions. It also helps signal to special interest groups that the Department is going to be prudent in deciding which issues it will take on.

Asserting that the Department’s decline started on January 20, 2017 makes it easy to forget the neglect of previous Secretaries and helps us brush off the necessary, but painful, changes Secretary Tillerson is trying to push through. It also serves to absolve the bureaucracy for its complicity in facilitating State’s declining influence. I witnessed our collective failings first hand staffing Department principals. Information memos often came up with boilerplate jargon, offering no useful insights or recommendations. Briefing checklists were full of platitudes but lacked tangible goals the principal needed to achieve during his/her meeting. It is no wonder Secretary Tillerson expanded the policy planning staff.

I do not know if Secretary Tillerson’s redesign will be successful. I do not know if he is adopting the right approach or tactics. What I do know is that if the State Department continues on the same course it will permanently cede influence to political appointees at the NSC and their backers at partisan Washington think tanks. I also know that if the Foreign Service gets mired in partisan rhetoric and the political buzzwords of the day, it will lose any remaining support it has in congress and with the American public.

The American people need career diplomats, not only to develop policy and strategy, but also to help conserve and pass down to future administrations the democratic values and diplomatic traditions that have made this country great. Sadly, our ability to deliver on this mission has been in decline for decades – a bloated NSC is just one example how State has failed to provide the executive branch with what it needs. Stemming this institutional decay will require a Secretary willing to take political punches and a bureaucracy ready to suffer through a period of painful change. Self-serving resignation letters full of unqualified assertions are not bold statements. They are an abdication of responsibility that reinforces stereotypes of the State Department as a “deep state” bureaucracy acting outside the interests of the American people. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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Update: Contact Details For This Blog

Hey folks, we’ve updated our contact info. We’ve deleted the Contactify email for this blog previously but inadvertently left one link on. Apologies for that.  If you’ve sent us anything via Burn Bag and have not seen anything posted, please consider sending it again.

For Burn Bag entries:

  • Via AnonEmail run by Anonymouse.org. You may address it to: burnbag[at]diplopundit[dot]net. You do not need to provide an email address but we request that you include “Burn Bag” on the subject field to help us sort it out from our regular mail.  Note that your anonymous e-mail will also be randomly delayed up to 12 hours.
  • You may use burnbag[at]diplopundit[dot]net if you’re also using Hushmail, the company provides encryption by default. You may sign up for a free private account at Hushmail.

For comment, feedback or request for correction our contact link remains the same here: https://diplopundit.net/contact-us/

Other option:

  • You may also contact us using diplopundit[at]protonmail[dot]com. If  you are also a ProtonMail user, your communication will be encrypted by default. If you don’t have a ProtonMail account you may want to create one here.

Please read: PSA: If You’re Using Gmail, Consider Getting a U2F Security Key to Secure Your Account.

Many thanks!

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Burn Bag: Getting Swamped By Contractors, Not Yippee Ki Yay!

 

We are getting swamped by contractors. Hiring freeze only means no more direct hires but since the jobs need to get done, we have more and more ‘mercenaries’ among us. As a taxpayer, I do not like to see people paid 20-40% more for the same jobs, swarming and over-numbering employees. For example at FSI, it now could be a 50-50 balance between Civil Service-Foreign Service on one side and contractors on the other. 

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Inbox: Female Contractor at DS Training Center Fired 3 Hours After Filing Harassment Complaint

Posted: 3:19 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’]

 

In response to our June 20 post Diplomatic Security’s Basic Special Agent (BSAC) Training: Sexual Harassment Alert!, we received the following:

To add:

There are only two female DS Agents assigned to the DS Training Center.

There is currently an EEO suit being brought by a contract female instructor who was fired from the DS Training Center three hours after she submitted a harassment complaint. In the complaint, a male PSC co-worker frequently harassed the female instructor, and, given the timing of the termination, this is an egregious violation of whistleblower/EEO diversity/harassment free workplace regulations and policies. The male PSC employee is still employed and complaints about his dealings with female students and employees persist.

 

via reactiongifs.com’

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Related posts:

Burn Bag: 2017 S-III Selection Board – Who Volunteers … Who Volunteers as Tribute?

Via Burn Bag:

“Given the lack of action by either the DG, HR/PE or AFSA, it is evident all support cronyism and undue influence on the 2017 S-III Selection Board given that a single individual has been chosen by HR/PE to represent DS 50% of the time over the past 6 years. This, despite other qualified candidates volunteering time & again. This wreaks of favoritism, undue influence and undermines the credibility of the Foreign Service promotion process.”

via giphy

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Related item:

3 FAM 2326.1 Selection Boards
3 FAM 2326.1-1 Composition:
f. All selection board members must be approved by the Director General and must not serve on a selection board for two consecutive years.

 

 

Burn Bag: What right does this U.S. mission have to prior restraint?

Via Burn Bag:

An eligible family member (EFM) overseas (not employed by a US mission) was recently told she had to submit an article she had written to the Ambassador and the regional bureau for review. The article had nothing to do with policy, the host country, or anything approaching privileged information. Nevertheless, the Ambassador, who had no particular expertise in the subject, sent changes back to the author. The EFM was also instructed that her co-author would also need clearance from her post and bureau.

When is this ridiculous overreach going to stop?

The FAM says nothing about Foreign Service spouses having to seek pre-publication review. Why are they expected to get clearance for their writing even when they are not employed by a U.S. mission and are not working for the U.S. Government?

 

The State Department’s pre-publication review has three purposes per 3 FAM 4170:

The personal capacity public communications review requirement is intended to serve three purposes: 1) to determine whether the communication would disclose classified or other protected information without authorization; 2) to allow the Department to prepare to handle any potential ramifications for its mission or employees that could result from the proposed public communication; or, 3) in rare cases, to identify public communications that are highly likely to result in serious adverse consequences to the mission or efficiency of the Department, such that the Secretary or Deputy Secretary must be afforded the opportunity to decide whether it is necessary to prohibit the communication (see 3 FAM 4176.4).