FSGB Case: When “there were no mitigating circumstances” considered despite conditions identified by MED

 

Via FSGB: FSGB Case No. 2019-034, July 2, 2020
Held – The Board found that the Department of State (the “Department” or “agency”) did not establish cause to separate the charged employee from the Foreign Service because the Deciding Official (“DO”) did not consider evidence of his personality problems as a mitigating circumstance. The Board was persuaded by evidence in the record that the agency should exercise its authority to initiate, as an alternative to separation, the option of a disability retirement, pursuant to 3 FAM 6164.3(a).
Case Summary – The Department charged the employee with Improper Personal Conduct based upon a pattern of unprofessional and inappropriate conduct toward colleagues, primarily hundreds of unwanted emails and text messages with sexual content. The Department’s Bureau of Medical Services (“MED”) had conducted a mental health evaluation of the charged employee and concluded that “to a reasonable degree of certainty,” the charged employee exhibited “behavior or symptoms (which may not rise to the level of formal diagnosis) of an emotional, mental or personality condition that may impair his reliability, judgment or trustworthiness.” The DO determined that the charged employee committed the charged offenses and that there were no mitigating circumstances. In finding no mitigating circumstances, the DO attested in the separation hearing that she did not take into consideration either the charged employee’s emotional, mental or personality condition that MED identified or the charged employee’s emails to coworkers that included references to his communications with divine beings as well as references to his own possible mental illness. The DO notified the charged employee of her proposal to separate him from the Foreign Service and provided him the opportunity to reply in person or in writing. The DO recommended separating the charged employee to promote the efficiency of the Service. The charged employee did not respond in person or in writing to the DO’s notification of her proposal to separate him from the Service recommendation or participate in the separation hearing. The Board found the Department did not establish cause to separate the charged employee because the DO did not consider the so-called Douglas Factor #11 on the agency’s checklist that relates to mitigating circumstances surrounding personality problems, and did not exercise the agency’s authority under 3 FAM 6164.3(a) to initiate a disability retirement on behalf of the charged employee as an alternative to disciplinary action.

[…]

We do not claim medical or psychological expertise, but, in our perusal of the record, we found indicators that the charged employee was described as exhibiting personality problems, and possibly more serious mental impairment or illness, from the emails and text messages he sent to former colleagues. For example, in specification 84, the charged employee is charged with offering to help Ms. B draft a complaint and get himself fired and committed to a mental hospital for the rest of his life. Also, in specifications 86 and 87, respectively, the charged employee is alleged to have first made reference to someone wanting him to commit suicide, then later noted asking God if his wife would commit suicide and informing Ms. D that the Virgin Mary told him to inform Ms. D that he knew she was worried that he might kill himself. Further, the charged employee displayed unusual behavior when he emailed Ms. B on June 6, 2017 at 8:31 p.m. that he had declined to see a psychiatrist before consulting attorneys about his options to file a lawsuit.11 That suggests the possibility that someone raised with the charged employee the matter of seeking a psychological consultation or examination.
In addition, DS ROI #1 included a statement by the charged employee’s wife that she believed her husband suffered from mental impairment, requiring medical treatment. The record further contains evidence, according to the spouse, that MED had conducted a thorough mental health evaluation of the charged employee on four separate dates. Similarly, DS ROI #2 concluded that the charged employee had expressed that he heard voices and instructions from God, the Devil, and the Virgin Mary. (See Specifications 6-8, 25, 29, 38, 76 and 87).
[…]
In the instant case, while the agency has provided credible evidence that the charged employee’s conduct does not promote the efficiency of the Service, we find the decision falls short on consideration of so-called Douglas Factor #11 on the agency’s checklist that relates to personality problems as a mitigating factor. We also credit the charged employee’s 19 years of distinguished service before his display of conduct that gave rise to the LOR and the proposal to separate him from the Service.12
Moreover, the Board is unaware of a requirement that a DO must be privy to private medical information or be a medical professional to initiate an application for disability retirement. To the contrary, under 3 FAM 6164.2-3, HR/ER, in consultation with MED, can initiate an application for disability retirement on behalf of an employee if, inter alia, 1) the agency has issued a proposal to remove the employee, 2) the agency has a reasonable basis to conclude that illness may be the cause of the employee’s conduct which renders him unable to work satisfactorily, or 3) the employee is incompetent and there is no guardian willing to file an application on the employee’s behalf. The existence of any one of these three conditions is sufficient for the agency to initiate an action for disability retirement, and the Board finds that the conditions in 1) and 2), supra, are apparent in this case.
Accordingly, the Board is of the view that the agency has not considered all mitigating factors before recommending separation for cause and has not exercised its authority to initiate, as an alternative to separation, the option of a disability retirement for the charged employee where grounds for such a retirement are apparent on the record. Pursuant to 3 FAM 6164.3(a), MED then would determine whether the charged employee is incapacitated for useful and efficient service, which is the standard for disability retirement.

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Ex-FSO Tianna Spears: Dear @StateDept, “Hello there, it’s me again”

 

Tianna Spears:
“You held discussions and town halls. As the paint dries, Juneteenth receives recognition, and Confederate statues are destroyed, remember that this is just the beginning.
You ask people of color and Black employees to share their suffering and experiences that were repeatedly dismissed and ignored. There is trauma, mental illness, stolen dreams, nightmares, and whispers that travel around the world in household effects. This isn’t the case just for Foreign Service members that are people of color, but the entire organization.
As employees that are people of color come forward and speak their truth, have you provided paid counseling/ therapy and tangible resources to continue these conversations? You ask my fellow colleagues to do the work for you once again.
You retraumatize.”
Related post: You ask, what is it like to be Black in America? A former @StateDept employee tells her story

Who Sits in @StateDG Carol Perez’s DCM Committee?

Via Foreign Affairs Handbook
3 FAH-1 H-2425.8-3  Deputy Chiefs of Mission (DCMs) and Principal Officers (POs) Assignments (SOP C-2)
(CT:POH-131;   05-01-2008)
(State only)
(Applies to Foreign Service Employees)
a. The DG chairs a committee, known as the DCM committee that reviews and proposes candidates to serve as DCMs and POs at positions overseas.
b. The DG selects members of Department management to serve on the committee.  The committee reviews, in consultation with HR and the relevant bureaus, the eligible bidders on DCM and PO positions.  The committee then decides on a list of candidates to fill the position.
c.  The committee sends the list of DCM candidates to the COM; the COM may select from among the candidates to fill the position.  If there is no COM at post, or in some cases if the COM is to depart post before the DCM arrives, the committee sends the list of candidates to the Assistant Secretary of the relevant bureau.  The Assistant Secretary, in these cases, selects the DCM.
d. The DCM committee itself selects candidates to serve as POs.

 

You ask, what is it like to be Black in America? A former @StateDept employee tells her story

Note: We’ve corrected the posts where she served. 

The following is a personal account of a former State Department employee who worked at the U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. Tianna S.  joined the State Department in April 2018. She was posted at the U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico (Oct. 2018- March 2019) and then at the U.S. Embassy Mexico City (March 2019- October 2019). She departed post in October 2019, she was 27 years old.  Her departure from the State Department was apparently called an “involuntary separation.” 
Her account said she “was encouraged not to speak to the press about what I experienced and to steer clear of any lawsuit as it had the potential for serious repercussions against my government career.” 
Who provided that encouragement?
Which officials at the State Department or post were aware about these incidents? When she was placed on involuntary separation, did the Bureau of Global Talent Management (State/M/GTM) and DGHR Carol Perez care what precipitated it?
If not, why not?
If yes, what did State’s top talent officer do besides sign off Tianna’s separation documents?
Via What’s Up With Tianna (excerpted with permission). Read the entire piece hereWhat do I want from white people? (An illustration on Being Black in America).
Her piece started with the death of George Floyd:

Your heart will pound heavily as George repeats “I can’t breathe.”

He will die face down in the middle of the street. You will watch another unarmed Black man die on camera, in cold flesh, at the hands of a white police officer. When the video finally ends, a feeling deep in your soul will tell you that the white police officer will not go to jail. Before you press play, ask yourself, how many more?

At one point in her account, she writes,  “You ask, what is it like to be Black in America?” Then she tells us:

I drove my vehicle from my house in Mexico across the United States land border into El Paso, Texas at 2:30PM on Saturday, January 19, 2019. A United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official flagged me into secondary inspection, for what marked the 17th instance of further inspection since I arrived in Mexico on October 26, 2018. The official inquired if I was a U.S. citizen, motive of travel in the United States, reason of visit in Mexico, and if the car I was driving was stolen. I sat on a cold bench and endured further questioning. I showed my Diplomatic Passport, stating I worked at the U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez, and lived there.

“Sure you do,” he laughed.

He probed, asking more questions. A new official appeared and searched my car, tossing around the contents in my backseat and glove compartment. He took his left hand and rubbed it up and down my car windows.

“I’m going to meet my friend in El Paso,” I stated.

“When you talk to a man, you look at the ground. Do you understand me?” He glared at me, face full of disgust. The officers laughed. My shoulders tense.

May I speak to your manager please?” I asked.

The on-duty manager approached, crossing his arms, and asked, “what do you want?” I told him about my negative interaction with the previous officers. The manager laughed and asked the motive of travel into the U.S. I told him I was going to meet a friend for coffee and was asked why I needed to come to the U.S. to partake in that activity.

“I’m a U.S. citizen,” I reiterated.

When I told the manager that I worked for the U.S. Consulate General as a Foreign Service Consular Officer, he laughed, rolled his eyes, and said, “right.” Again, I presented my Diplomatic Passport, U.S. Passport, Mexican Carnet, and Global Entry Card. He laughed again and told me he did not need to look at my identification stating, “it could be counterfeit for all I know.”

Blood pumping. Small and humiliated. The manager never looked at my documentation, nor believed anything that I said, even with substantial proof. He went back in his office after obtaining my first and last name. Upon returning, he told me that I had only been pulled over to secondary about eight times so “why are you complaining?” I was bewildered and still am. I requested his name, only to be met with his reply of “I do not have to give you my name.” He later stated “you don’t need my first name.” His name was Officer Kireli.

When I reiterated that his account of the frequency of secondary inspection was incorrect, the manager scoffed, his team standing behind him almost mocking me.

Just because you say you work at the Consulate, does not mean that you are not smuggling drugs into the country,” he said. Extremely frustrated and irritated, I asked how in the world I would be able to get top secret security clearance to work for the United States Government.

The manager then told me, “I do not know, but I do know what drug dealers and smugglers look like.” When I asked him to explain, the manager stepped forward, attempting to intimidate me, crossed his arms, looked at me up and down, and said, “you know what I mean.” I was furious at his insinuation that I was a drug smuggler and his racially charged implication based off of my appearance. I demanded an apology from the manager for the disgusting and unjust defamation of my name and my character.

The CBP manager took another step forward to stand on top of the platform that the bench sits on, positioning him to be a couple inches taller than me. He placed his hand on his gun, finger around the trigger, and told me to get back in my car.

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@StateDept Discovers Virtual OnBoarding/Oaths of Office/Training, Classes Will Now Continue

 

On April 5, 2020, Ambassador Ronald Neumann and Ambassador Dennis Jett wrote an op-ed on The Hill about the onboarding issue at the State Department which affected two incoming classes cancelled due to COVID-19:

Imagine the following situation: After a year-long hiring process, you get an offer to start your dream job in government. You quit your current position, terminate the lease on your apartment, pack up the spouse and kids and move to Washington to begin your new life.

But the dream quickly turns into a nightmare. No sooner do you check into your hotel than you are informed that your incoming class of new employees has been canceled because of COVID-19. And since you hadn’t formally started the job, you are not eligible for a paycheck. The only assistance your agency offers is a ticket home — the home that is no longer yours in the town where you are no longer employed.
[…]
That is the situation in which 90 people about to become new Foreign Service officers now find themselves. They were supposed to report for duty at the end of March, but the State Department abruptly told them that for an undetermined length of time they have no job.  

A second class of about an equal number of Foreign Service specialists is equally affected, bringing the total to roughly 175. It didn’t have to be this way. The Office of Personnel Management has advised federal agencies how the “on-boarding process” for new employees can be conducted virtually or remotely.
[…]
State argues, however, that even the first seven-week course that the officers take cannot be done remotely. That is simply not the case; there is no reason such training wouldn’t be as effective.

The Neumann/Jett op-ed has 1137 shares and 134 comments. The comment section, as can be expected these days, is like rumble in the jungle.
On May 1, 2020, DGHR Carol Perez also wrote an op-ed on The Hill, apparently timed for Foreign Affairs Day, to report that the State Department has discovered virtual onboarding, and virtual oaths of office, and that the postponed classes will now continue:

Thanks to our imaginative, committed colleagues, along with new flexibilities granted by the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget, the department is now able to carry out virtual oaths of office, virtual onboarding and virtual training for foreign service officers and specialists starting in May and continuing this summer. 

These new recruits will include candidates from the foreign service classes postponed in March and April. And I am pleased to report we already have virtually onboarded three civil service cohorts.

The Perez op-ed has 202 shares and 28 comments. Also a rumble in the jungle, tho, a smaller jungle.

@StateDept Suspends All PCS Travel Through May 31

A couple weeks ago, the State Department issued a guidance cable to all Department personnel concerning permanent change of station (PCS) travel and home leave through May 31, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Citing the “myriad uncertainties” and “travel and logistics restrictions”, the State Department  suspended all overseas and domestic PCS travel with very limited exceptions, effective through May 31. Transition from one Washington, D.C. assignment to another does not appear to be affected by this suspension.
This PCS suspension will reportedly be reviewed on May 20 and that this “period may be extended if the situation does not improve.”
The guidance says that exceptions to the suspension of PCS travel may be considered for certain employees like those on curtailments related to health, or mission critical employees (approved by bureau assistant secretary for certain countries, or by the Under Secretary for Management for CDC Level 3 countries or State Department Travel Advisory for Health Level 4 countries), or employees on direct to post transfers.
Diplomatic Security and medical personnel are considered mission critical and those employees are reportedly expected to PCS to their next overseas assignment, unless the Chief of Mission (COM) at the receiving post determines that “health and safety issues outweigh security concerns and prevents their arrival to post.” DS personnel are also told that they should be ready to remain at Post beyond their tour end-date if deemed necessary by their Chiefs of Mission.
The guidance encouraged employees to take their home leave between domestic and overseas assignments. At the conclusion of the home leave, employees are told to “be prepared to telework for their onward assignment at their home leave location.” The guidance further says that all employees are expected to work with their onward post and/or bureau to be assigned suitable duties for telework/remote work following Department protocols. Reiterating a prior cable, the guidance explains what supervisor can grant “weather and safety leave” to U.S. Direct Hires for those regular duty hours for which there is insufficient remote work to assign.
Additional guidance is reportedly expected to be published in the near future.

Surviving the Outbreak, Reflections on ConGen Wuhan’s Evacuation and Life in Quarantine (Via @StateMag)

 

Featured in the  April 2020 issue of State Magazine (published by the State Department’s Bureau of Human Resources) is an article by Russell J. Westergard, the deputy consular chief at the U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan, China.
Surviving the Outbreak, Reflections on ConGen Wuhan’s evacuation and life in quarantine

By mid-October 2019, the dedicated team at the U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan knew that the city had been struck by what was thought to be an unusually vicious flu season. The disease worsened in November. When city officials began to close public schools in mid-December to control the spread of the disease, the team passed the word to Embassy Beijing and continued monitoring. The possibility of a new viral outbreak was always on the consulate’s radar. Still, the working assumption in every scenario had always been that, as in past outbreaks like H1N1 (known as swine flu), it would appear in rural areas first and then spread to major urban centers across China. 

When the Chinese government announced on December 29th that the new and novel coronavirus (COVID-19) had been identified and traced to a live animal market near the U.S. consulate, it caught the team’s attention. Four hectic weeks later, ConGen Wuhan closed under ordered departure with the consulate team pulling off what some people involved have since described as a minor miracle. Consulate staff found themselves at the airport of a paralyzed city preparing to evacuate family members and other U.S. citizens from what would turn out to be ground zero of a deadly global pandemic.

Fast forward to the second week in February. As the ConGen Wuhan team, family members, and the rest of the 195 passengers on board that first flight from Wuhan concluded their 14-day quarantine at the March Air Reserve Base (ARB) in Southern California, the joy and a collective sigh of relief were audible.

Read in full here.

 

DGHR Notifies HR Employees of Measures to Manage COVID-19 in SA-1  

 

We learned from two sources that State Department DGHR Carol Perez sent out an email notice to HR Employees on “Measures to Manage COVID-19 in SA-1 ” on the evening of March 24.  SA-1 is a State Department annex office located on E Street in Columbia Plaza A & B that includes multiple agency tenants like the HR (now GTM) bureau and the Bureau of Administration.

“GTM was notified today of a presumptive positive case of COVID-19 in SA-1.  The person has been out of the office since the close of business Thursday, March 19.”

The email went on to describe the measures the State Department has undertaken including the A bureau cordoning off “space on the floor where the person works for disinfection.” The DGHR’s email notified HR employees that MED and the Bureau of Administration supervised a vendor conducting “a deliberate and professional disinfection of those spaces.”
“The disinfected spaces will be safe for re-occupation tomorrow, March 25,” the DGHR writes. Her email also told employees that “Areas contiguous to those spaces (hallways, elevators) continue to be safe for use” and that  GTM (HR) “remains operational, and the rest of SA-1 remains open as a worksite. ”
The notice ends with a reminder that employees should be aware of CDC guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19 and says that “ Employees should stay home and not come to work if they feel sick or have symptoms of illness.” Employees are also reminded if they are at work to “wash their hands frequently and employ social distancing” and that “Directorates and Offices should not engage in group events of 10 or more individuals at this time.”
DGHR’s closing line said “The health and safety of our employees remains our top priority.  Please take care of yourselves and each other.”
One source told us that the DGHR message was apparently sent only to those in the HR (GTM) bureau. Sender A asks:

“If someone working in HR was exposed, then, ostensibly, does that not mean that anyone else working in that same building (SA-1) might also have been exposed irrespective of whether or not they work for HR? Or that customers of that HR officer who visited SA-1 might’ve been? I mean, really? Are we REALLY stove piping info like this?!”

A second source told us that this was the approach the Consular Affairs bureau took in communicating about the positive case of COVID-19 in SA-17
We don’t know if the presumptive positive case is with HR or the A bureau, but if it’s the latter, it would be weird for HR employees to be notified but not the A bureau, hey?
The top official who says “The health and safety of our employees remains our top priority” can do better communicating information about COVID-19 cases within the State Department. We were informed that there is still “no central info on cases department-wide or measures individual embassies are taking to share best practices or information on gravity of situation.” Note that MED said it is tracking cases. See COVID-19 Tracker: State Department and Foreign Service Posts (March 25 Update).
We’re having a hard time understanding that. This is an agency that takes notes about everything but is unable to track this virus in domestic offices and overseas posts?
These are scary times, no doubt but remember the human. I often do yard work these days to keep my anxiety down or I won’t get anything done.  Different folks deal with anxieties, uncertainties and fears differently, except that it gets more difficult to do absent relevant needed information. Do folks really want to see rumors flying around the annexes? As often said, rumors express and gratify the emotional needs of the community. It occupies the space where that need is not meet, and particularly when there is deficient communication.
Valued employees deserve more.

 

Newly Gilded Bureau of Super Talent Talks About Self, Super Heroes on Earth 2

We received a question of which we have no answer:
Sender A asks, “how much time can they dither while the place collapses?”
What are you talking about?
Oops, folks, you were supposed to change your signature blocks as soon as possible, but preferably no later than last Monday!  Yes, yes, this is terribly very serious. You can’t be a bureau of super talent if you don’t have the approved signature block!
Meanwhile on Earth 2:

On the other hand, things are not as peachy on Earth 1:

Also on Earth 1, also not peachy:

@StateDept’s HR Bureau Rebrands as Bureau of Global Talent Management

 

The Director General of the Foreign Service Carol Perez marked the start of her second year as DGHR by announcing the rebranding of the Bureau of Human Resources into the Bureau of Global Talent Management (GTM).

Somebody notes that the name sounds like “a second-rate modeling agency.”

And how do you pronounce the new acronym … “Get’um”? “Git’um”? “Get’m”?

Apparently, DGHR Perez has previously  mentioned during a bureau town hall that the Global Talent Management “better captures the scope and strategic nature” of the  Bureau’s work.  Always great, great when you add the word “strategic” into the fray, makes everything so strategic.  It supposedly also makes two essential features clear — that the bureau is  a global operation, with over 270 posts in over 190 countries around the world, and that the bureau is in “the talent business”, that is, “recruiting, hiring, retaining and cultivating the best people for the mission.”
We were hoping to hear what happens after “cultivating the best people for the mission” but we were disappointed, of course.
She tells her folks: “I know change is never easy, and I don’t expect it to take place overnight. All of the logistics that go into a name change are being executed in-house. This not only saves resources, but also ensures that the effort is led by those who know the bureau best—our own employees. However, it also means that the full roll-out will be gradual. An ALDAC and Department Notice announcing the name change to the wider workforce will go out later this week, but the full transition will be ongoing. I ask for your patience as signage and digital platforms are updated.”
Why is the HR bureau rebranding? The purported reason being “human resources is a critical bureau function, but not the Bureau’s sole function.”  The DGHR says that “the name “Bureau of Human Resources” no longer represents the full scope of our work, and it lags behind current industry standards. This is one small yet symbolic piece of the Department’s larger efforts to modernize.”
Don’t worry, while HR is not the Bureau’s sole function, it remains an integral part of the bureaus work so there will be no/no change in job titles with one exception. Human Resources Officers (HROs) will not/not become Global Talent Officers  (GTOs) and HR Specialists will not/not become Global Talent Specialists. The one exception is the DGHR. Her full title will be Director General of the Foreign Service (DGHR) and now also Director of Global Talent (DGT). 
The full rollout apparently will be gradual and will include updating signage, updating the digital platforms, e-mail signature blocks, and vocabularies.  Folks should be in the lookout for the Strategic (MY.THAT.WORD. AGAIN) Communications Unit (SCU); it will be sending around a checklist, style guide, and templates so everyone can start living loudly under the new brand.
A few bureau offices will also change their names:
HR/REE (Office of Recruitment, Examination, and Employment) will now be known as Talent Acquisition (GTM/TAC).
HR/RMA (Office of Resource Management and Organization Analysis) should now be called  Organization and Talent Analytics (GTM/OTA).
HR/SS  (Office of Shared Services)  will now be known as Talent Services (GTM/TS).
The announcement makes clear that this is not/not a reorganization and there will also be no/no change in core functions!
So they’re changing the bureau’s name and a few offices names, but everything else stays the same. Yay!
The new name is a “symbolic piece” that will make folks think of the department’s “modernization.”
Yay!Yay!
Makes a lot of sense, really. Of all the problems facing the Foreign Service these days, a bureau’s rebranding  should be on top of it. Change is never easy, so go slow, people, make sure the logos, signage and new paint job are done right.

 

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