State/OIG Releases Report on Pompeos Personal Use of USG Resources During Foggy Bottom Tenure

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It’s a wonder they did not create an Office of the First Lady of the State Department in Foggy Bottom.

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OIG Issues Recommendation For US Embassy London: EUR Says Nah! Y’all Can Just View Workplace Harassment Videos

The long awaited OIG report on US Embassy London was finally released on August 12 (PDF). The inspection was conducted from September 3 to December 9, 2019. Copies of the draft report were furnished to “Department stakeholders” including the EUR bureau and the US Embassy in London. The report does not say when this draft report was sent out for comments. It also does not indicate if it sent a copy of this draft report to the Under Secretary for Management and Pompeo BFF Brian Bulatao. The State Department left a Senior Bureau official in EUR to respond on behalf of State Department Management.
Late April. According to the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), the inspection report went to US Embassy London for comment (see Watchdog Firing Came Amid Probe of Trump’s Friend, the U.S. Ambassador in London).
On Friday, May 15, 2020,  the Senate-confirmed OIG Steve Linick was fired  (Trump to fire State/OIG Steve Linick who is reportedly investigating Pompeo). NYT reported that Linick has been locked out of his office, despite a law mandating a 30-day waiting period for Congress to raise objections.
May 15, 2020, the President appointed Stephen Akard as Acting Inspector General (PDF).
On May 27, 2020, the US Ambassador to London Woody Johnson wrote a memo to the OIG Assistant Inspector General for Inspections Sandra Lewis in response to the draft report.
June 4, 2020: Acting OIG Stephen Akard informed Congress that he stepped away from OFM operations and is recused on “all matters related to OFM”, “matters I worked on”, and matters involving individuals he know personally (PDF).
On July 1, 2020, the EUR Bureau’s Senior Official Philip Reeker (they’ve given up on having a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary) responded to the draft report according to State/OIG.  Reeker’s memo sent to State/OIG Sandra Lewis , appended to the OIG report, does not include the date it was written, and contains just one paragraph in response to OIG’s Recommendation 1. The EUR bureau did not even bother to respond to OIG Recommendation 9 related to the $31.5 million deficit in the the defined benefit pension plan for the LE staff of US Mission London.
August 5, 2020: Politico reported that Acting OIG Stephen Akard has resigned and not expected to return to the office for the remainder of the week.
August 7, 2020: Acting Inspector General Stephen Akard officially resigned from his position (PDF).
On August 12, 2020, State/OIG under Acting IG – Diana R. Shaw (deputy to Linick, then Akard) released its report of US Embassy London, omits from its front page summary the topics that merited the longest response from both the EUR bureau and the ambassador. Should be interesting to see what that draft report looked like. Excerpt below from publicly available OIG report (PDF):

Tone at the Top and Standards of Conduct

The Chief of Mission, a first time, non-career ambassador, arrived in August 2017 and presented his credentials to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in November 2017. From New Jersey, he was a businessman and philanthropist. The DCM, a career Senior Foreign Service officer, arrived in January 2019 following an assignment as acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Egypt and North Africa. Prior to that, she had multiple domestic and overseas assignments, principally in or involving the Near East.

When the Ambassador arrived at Embassy London in late summer 2017, he assumed responsibility from the previous DCM who had served as Chargé d’Affaires for approximately 7 months. OIG learned that the relationship between the Ambassador and the former DCM deteriorated during the year that they worked together, affecting mission morale and ending in the DCM’s reassignment. Based on interviews with embassy staff, OIG concluded that the Ambassador did not always model the Department’s leadership and management principles as contained in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214 and, in particular, 3 FAM 1214b(4) and (6) regarding communication and self-awareness. For example, some embassy staff told OIG that when the Ambassador was frustrated with what he interpreted to be excessive staff caution or resistance to suggestions about which he felt strongly, he sometimes questioned their intentions or implied that he might have them replaced. This caused staff to grow wary of providing him with their best judgment. With the arrival of the current DCM, chosen by the Ambassador, staff generally reported to OIG that they saw better communication from the Front Office and an increased confidence from the Ambassador in the mission’s staff.

OIG also found that some staff were impacted by the Ambassador’s demanding, hard driving work style and it had a negative effect on morale in some embassy sections. In addition, OIG learned, through employee questionnaires and interviews, that the Ambassador sometimes made inappropriate or insensitive comments on topics generally considered Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)-sensitive, such as religion, sex, or color. According to 3 FAM 1526.1, offensive or derogatory comments, based on an individual’s race, color, sex, or religion, can create an offensive working environment and could potentially rise to a violation of EEO laws. Based on the information that OIG learned during the inspection, and pursuant to the requirements in 3 FAM 1526.2, a more thorough review by the Department is warranted.

Recommendation 1:

The Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, in coordination with the Office of Civil Rights, should assess the Chief of Mission’s compliance with Department Equal Employment Opportunity or leadership policies and based on the results of the review, take appropriate action. (Action: EUR, in coordination with S/OCR)

Washington interlocutors plus “coffee and donuts”

At the time of the inspection, OIG interviews indicated that both the Ambassador and the DCM modeled 3 FAM 1214 attributes of strategic planning and decisiveness. The Ambassador advised the embassy staff on the importance of spending U.S. taxpayer monies wisely, and he and the DCM practiced proper procedures with respect to receipt of gifts. Both mission employees and Washington interlocutors told OIG the Ambassador was reaching out to U.S. direct-hire and LE staff in an effort to know them better, to convey his appreciation for their work, and to continue to familiarize himself with the many aspects of the complex, multiagency mission he was leading. OIG also learned of several efforts by the Ambassador to engage with his staff, including an event at his residence, Winfield House, for LE staff with 30 years or more of service. He also invited staff to join him for informal “coffee and donuts” gatherings in the embassy. Staff and senior Washington interlocutors told OIG they were encouraged by the constructive and effective partnership formed between the Ambassador and the DCM.

Johnson’s Response to Recommendation 1, May 27, 2020 Memo to OIG:

During my tenure as U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom and indeed for the entirety of my professional life, I have respected both the law and the spirit of EEO principles and have ensured that all employees under my direction do the same. If I have unintentionally offended anyone in the execution of my duties, I deeply regret that, but I do not accept that I have treated employees with disrespect or discriminated in any way. My objective is to lead the highly talented team at Mission UK to execute the President’s policies and to do so in a way that is respectful of our differences, with zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind. I believe that team cohesion in our mission is better than ever and as is stated in the OIG report’s narrative, that I have taken extensive measures to get to know all of the staff and thank them for their contributions. I am especially proud of how the Mission UK team has handled these challenging times of COVID-19.

In order to address the concerns documented in your report, perceived or real, I have reviewed an S/OCR course on discrimination in the workplace and have instructed the entire Mission UK country team to do the same, with 100% compliance by the end of May. I respectfully disagree with Recommendation 1 and ask that the OIG consider the absence of any official complaints against me during my three year tenure and the generally positive tone of the OIG report on Mission UK before including the recommendation in the final report and concluding that my actions have negatively affected morale.

Management Response (State/EUR) to Recommendation 1, Memo to OIG:

In its July 1, 2020,2 response, the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs disagreed with this recommendation. The bureau stated, that given the concern expressed, the Ambassador has viewed the Office of Civil Rights video on workplace harassment and has instructed all section and agency heads to do the same. He has also encouraged all staff to take the Foreign Service Institute training on mitigating unconscious bias. The bureau also represented that the Ambassador “is well aware of his responsibility to set the right tone for his mission and we believe his actions demonstrate that.” Accordingly, the bureau reported it did not believe a formal assessment was required, but proposed that, in coordination with the embassy, it would instead work with the Office of Civil Rights to provide advice and additional training to all staff, including the Chief of Mission, to heighten awareness on these important issues.

Here is the full undated response from the bureau via State/OIG:

OIG Reply to EUR’s response: SIR! Have you meet your obligations under 3 FAM 1526.2, SIR?

OIG considers the recommendation unresolved. OIG acknowledges the actions that the mission has taken with regard to training of staff and the stated bureau proposal to work with the Office of Civil Rights to provide advice and additional training to all staff. These actions, however, do not address the recommendation which calls for an assessment of Chief of Mission compliance with Department Equal Employment Opportunity or leadership policies. The recommendation can be closed when OIG receives and accepts documentation that the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs has met its obligations under 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1526.2.

Read on:
3 FAM 1526.2 The Department’s Responsibilities Under This Policy
[Under 3 FAM 1520 – NON-DISCRIMINATION ON THE BASIS OF RACE, COLOR, NATIONAL ORIGIN, SEX, OR RELIGION]
(CT:PER-631;   12-14-2010)
(State) (Foreign Service and Civil Service Employees)

a. If the Department receives an allegation of discriminatory harassment, or has reason to believe such harassment is occurring, it will take the steps necessary to ensure that the matter is promptly investigated and addressed.  If the allegation is determined to be credible, the Department will take immediate and effective measures to end the unwelcome behavior.  The Department is committed to taking action if it learns of possible discriminatory harassment, even if the individual does not wish to file a formal complaint.

b. The Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) is the main contact point for questions or concerns about discriminatory harassment.  S/OCR is responsible for investigating or overseeing investigations of alleged discriminatory harassment.  S/OCR is committed to ensuring that all investigations are conducted in a prompt, thorough, and impartial manner.

c.  Supervisors and other responsible Department officials who observe, are informed of, or reasonably suspect incidents of possible discriminatory harassment must immediately report such incidents to S/OCR, which will either initiate or oversee a prompt investigation.  Failure to report such incidents to S/OCR will be considered a violation of this policy and may result in disciplinary action.

d. S/OCR will provide guidance as needed on investigating and handling the potential harassment.  Supervisors should take effective measures to ensure no further apparent or alleged harassment occurs pending completion of an investigation.

e. The Department will seek to protect the identities of the alleged victim and harasser, except as reasonably necessary (for example, to complete an investigation successfully).  The Department will also take the necessary steps to protect from retaliation those employees who in good faith report incidents of potential discriminatory harassment.  It is a violation of both Federal law and this policy to retaliate against someone who has reported unlawful harassment.  Violators may be subject to discipline.

f.  Employees who have been found by the Department to have discriminatorily harassed others may be subject to discipline or other appropriate management action.  Discipline will be appropriate to the circumstances, ranging from a letter of reprimand to suspensions without pay to separation for cause.  A verbal or written admonishment, while not considered formal discipline, may also be considered.

So, who you gonna call? 
Dammit, the Ghostbusters!

 

@StateDept Officials Reportedly Wary of Acting IG Akard Who Also Reports to Pompeo BFF Bulatao

 

On May 30, CNN tweeted that “the ousted State Inspector General Steve Linick is expected to sit down for a transcribed interview on Wednesday, June 3rd,  with lawmakers who are probing his firing earlier this month, according to two congressional aides familiar with the inquiry and scheduling.”
Steve Linick’s removal was effective in “30 days.” But Linick has since been told apparently that “he is physically barred from returning to the State Department even to collect his belongings, complicating his ability to finish his work.”
Meanwhile, over in the Foggiest Bottom, the Acting State/IG Stephen Akard (who is reportedly keeping his other day job as @OFM_Ambassador) has assumed charged of the IG office the Monday following Linick’s Friday night firing.
Politico’s Nahal Toosi  is reporting about the reactions from State Department officials, and there are all sorts of worries:
    • “State Department officials are increasingly uneasy with their new acting inspector general, fearing he has conflicts of interest that could lead him to derail ongoing investigations — including ones into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — while endangering cooperating witnesses.”
    • “Some State Department staffers fear Akard will try to rescind, or otherwise undermine, past investigations conducted by his ousted predecessor, Steve Linick.”
    • “Others worry that the presence of Akard, who also has ties to Vice President Mike Pence, will scare off employees who wish to report waste, fraud and abuse.”
    • “Meanwhile, State Department employees who were interviewed for ongoing and past investigations – often under conditions of anonymity – are worried that Akard will track down their identities and share them with Pompeo and others. They fear they will be targeted for professional retribution as a result.”
    • “Another State Department staffer predicted that colleagues will shy away from reporting future cases of wrongdoing at the department because of Akard.”
Concerns from Capitol Hill:

“There also are concerns on Capitol Hill and beyond that Akard will seek ways to undermine Linick’s past, completed investigations that may have upset Pompeo and some of his top aides.”

Now, this part of Politico’s reporting should be a red flag. If true that this was Akards defense when asked about a potential conflict of interest, this is a bad sign:

“When asked about these potential conflicts of interest, Akard has offered a “head-scratching” take, a person familiar with the situation told POLITICO. Akard has said that, in reality, Bulatao is not his supervisor, but that his actual boss is Trump, because it’s the president who technically nominated him to serve as the head of OFM.”

OFM’s Stephen Akard reports to Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao. Period.

“As the head of the Office of Foreign Missions, Akard reports to Bulatao. As the undersecretary of State for management, Bulatao also oversees several other major divisions within the State Department, such as the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

If any of those other units falls under investigation by the inspector general’s office, some State Department officials argue, Akard can’t reasonably expect to play a role in the probe because he also reports to Bulatao. Bulatao is a longtime personal friend and former business partner of Pompeo’s.

His new staff have asked him what he will do if instructed by Pompeo or others not to investigate something. His response was that unless there was a very good reason, he would say that such an instruction was inappropriate. Akard also has acknowledged that he may have to recuse himself from certain matters.”

What does Pompeo want? A pet in his pocket?
    • But the fact that the chief U.S. diplomat has been so public about what he views as the proper role of an inspector general worries staffers who fear Akard will internalize the message.
    • In a Thursday interview with Fox News, Pompeo indirectly made it clear what he would like to see in an inspector general when he hinted that Linick was too independent.
    • “He was acting in a way that was deeply inconsistent with what the State Department was trying to do,” Pompeo said of Linick. “We tried to get him to be part of a team that was going to help protect his own officers from Covid-19; he refused to be an active participant. He was investigating policies he simply didn’t like. That’s not the role of an inspector general … This was about an IG who was attempting to undermine the mission of the United States Department of State. That’s unacceptable.”
Watch Pompeo’s actions not the blah, blah, blahs!
    • “One of the political appointees singled out for criticism by Linick was Kevin Moley, the head of the bureau. Even though some of Pompeo’s top aides acknowledged many of the problems described in Linick’s report, they claimed the secretary of State had no power to fire Moley because he was a presidential appointee. Instead, Moley was allowed to quietly retire several weeks later.
    • “(The State Department has never responded to questions from POLITICO about whether Pompeo had ever asked Trump to fire Moley. He did do so for Linick, who also was a presidential appointee.)”
The fact that Pompeo asked Trump to fire Linick but offered no actions following the IG reports on staff mistreatments says something about his organizational view of Foggy Bottom. There is an in-group and an out-group in Foggy Bottom’s universe, and only the in-group really matters.
You folks notice that Pompeo is really doing a nasty number on Linick? Not just recommending to Trump that Linick be fired, but throwing rocks and mud at Linick on his way out.  It really makes one wonder what kind of issues Linick was digging up as Foggy Bottom’s junkyard dog.
Linick was fired at a carefully selected time, then reportedly barred from returning to his office even if the firing did not become official for 30 more days. Pompeo quipped that he “should have done it some time ago,”  So why was it not done some time ago?
Why did it become so urgent, they had to fire him under cover of darkness on a Friday night on May 15th?
Then they apparently barred him from returning to his office, not even affording  a dedicated public servant the courtesy of allowing him to pack up his personal things, say goodbye to his colleagues, or have an orderly transition.
Then the Acting IG, double hatted as @OFM_Ambassadorshowed up at his new office the following business day to make everyone happy.
State OIG has a Deputy IG Diana R. Shaw.  Why was she not picked as Acting IG?  Questions, so many questions. If you got answers, we’re interested in listening.