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

Posted: 6:02 pm PT
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The Department of State is developing a rank-order list of eligible hires for a number of Special Agent (SA) vacancies. The announcement does not indicate how many vacancies are open only that the specific number to be hired will be based on the needs of the Department and is subject to change.

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

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

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

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

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Why Did Diplomatic Security Compile a Short-List of DS Agents Leaving For the U.S. Marshals Service?

Posted: 3:30 am ET
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On October 4, we wrote about DS agents fleeing Diplomatic Security in droves for the U.S. Marshals Service.  On October 14, we did a follow-up piece, Is Diplomatic Security, the State Department’s Law Enforcement Arm Trying to Break the Law? Today, we’ll talk about the list.

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

The List:  Where did it come from?

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

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

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

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

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

recd_usmsapplicantlist

 

The List: What is it for?

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

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

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

Also two things:

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

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

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

Blowing Up the Security Officers’ Attrition Rate

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

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

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

ds-attrition-number

via state.gov

 

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Is Diplomatic Security, the State Department’s Law Enforcement Arm Trying to Break the Law?

Posted: 4:21 am ET
Updated: 10:37 am PST
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On October 4, we wrote about DS agents fleeing Diplomatic Security in droves for the U.S. Marshals Service.  We can now report that approximately 70 agents applied to move from Diplomatic Security to the U.S. Marshals Service and some 30 agents have received conditional offers. A State Department official on background shared with us a short-list of DS agents leaving the bureau for the U.S. Marshals Service. The list was reportedly compiled sometime this summer at the direction of the Diplomatic Security Front Office.  There is now an allegation that Diplomatic Security had asked the U.S. Marshals Service to stop accepting DS agents transfers.  Anecdotal evidence appears to indicate that the list is also being used by DS/IP in pre-assignment deliberations.  This comes amidst reports from sources that DSS Director Bill Miller addressed over 100 DSS agents during a brief in preparation for the UN General Assembly (UNGA), and allegedly stated that any DS agent who leaves for the U.S. Marshals would not be allowed back into the agency.

 

DS to Departing Agents: Bye, You Can’t Come Back! Seriously?

On the warning delivered at the UNGA brief, a State Department official who talked to us on background said: “I’m not sure how many people in that audience realized that just uttering those words is a prohibited personnel practice under 5 USC § 2302(b).”   

So we went and look up the actual statute: 5 U.S. Code § 2302 – Prohibited personnel practices

(b) Any employee who has authority to take, direct others to take, recommend, or approve any personnel action, shall not, with respect to such authority—

(4) deceive or willfully obstruct any person with respect to such person’s right to compete for employment;

(5) influence any person to withdraw from competition for any position for the purpose of improving or injuring the prospects of any other person for employment;

(10) discriminate for or against any employee or applicant for employment on the basis of conduct which does not adversely affect the performance of the employee or applicant or the performance of others; except that nothing in this paragraph shall prohibit an agency from taking into account in determining suitability or fitness any conviction of the employee or applicant for any crime under the laws of any State, of the District of Columbia, or of the United States;

Could the warning  — that any DSS agent who leaves for the U.S. Marshals would not be allowed back into the agency — influence an applicant for the USMS job to withdraw from competition for fear of retaliation?

If an agent in good standing departs the bureau for another federal job, and decides to come back later, can DS legally discriminate against that agent on the fact that he/she previously left the bureau for another agency?

Isn’t asking the U.S. Marshals Service to stop accepting DS agents transfers considered an obstruction to these agents’ right to compete for employment?

It looks like 5 U.S. Code § 2302 is quite clear about this. Interference with the hiring process of a federal employee is not permissible. Unless, Diplomatic Security is treating 5 U.S. Code § 2302 as a suggestion, and compliance as optional.

We understand that it has been a standard practice at Diplomatic Security that any agent who leaves in good standing is often welcomed back if they wished to return, with minor stipulations for reinstatement. We’re told that typically they would have three years to apply for reinstatement, subject to available vacancies, training requirements, and they may be required to take a hardship tour on the first new assignment upon reinstatement. We should note that 3 FAM 2130 actually says “Because recent familiarity with the Foreign Service is a valuable asset that distinguishes former members from new hires, candidates for reappointment may be considered if they have left the Service not longer than 5 years prior to the date on their reappointment request.”

If it is true — that the top law enforcement official at Diplomatic Security delivered a message not only contrary to practice but also against the law — wouldn’t this generate great concern and trepidation among the troops? Shouldn’t this alarm the top leadership at the State Department and in the Congress?

The State Department official on background told us that every year DS has some attrition to FBI, ATF, OIGs, etc.  but the fact that this lateral USMS announcement came out with the intent to hire experienced agents, at grade, and in significant numbers was “the perfect storm for the poor morale and lack of career control that plagues our mid-level agents.”  The conditional offers to the DS agents reportedly compose nearly one quarter of all offers sent out by the USMS.  We were told that no single agency is as widely represented in that offer pool as Diplomatic Security.

Which is probably embarrassing and all, as folks might start asking uncomfortable questions such as —what the heck is going on at Diplomatic Security these days?

Another source told us  this could have been a lot worse had the vacancy announcement lasted longer than 24 hours. The U.S. Marshals vacancy announcement actually opened on June 8, 2016 and closed on June 8, 2016.

So — we asked the Bureau about this reported bar the agents talk with a Q: PDAS reportedly told folks at UNGA that the departing agents would not be allowed to come back to DS. This sounds a lot like a retaliatory threat and would be a prohibited personnel practice under 5 USC § 2302(b).  After multiple emails and days of waiting, we finally got a non-response on October 12 from Diplomatic Security:

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

Note that we have not received previous comments to these questions although we have sent multiple queries. Heaven knows we don’t expect perfection from our State Department but we do, however, expect it to be responsive and accountable for the reported actions of its top officials.

Look, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) is the security and law enforcement arm of the U.S. Department of State. Which means that an allegation that it is not following the law even in one area cannot stand with just “no comment.” It also cannot just be ignored. We got no clarification, no explanation, no denial.  Maybe State or DS will have comments for the Congressional Oversight folks?

The bureau has several responses we can think of:

#1.  Deny, deny, deny: hey, hey, this is a nothing-burger, go away.

FSprob_nothingtosee

 

#2. Admit in part/deny in part: there was an official brief, but this warning never happened; you’re barking up the wrong tree.

wrongtree

via giphy.com

#3. Aggrieved defense: We are a law enforcement agency, of course we follow the law; are you nuts?

areyounuts

via giphy.com

#4. Pride defense: We are the Diplomatic Security Service, we don’t make a habit of threatening anyone just because he/she wants to be like U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard!

#5. Ideal response not coming: We have no greater resource than our people. We have not, and we will not interfere with our employees right to compete for employment.

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Next: Why did Diplomatic Security compile a short-list of DS agents leaving for the U.S. Marshals Service?

 

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Why Are DS Agents Fleeing Diplomatic Security In Droves For the U.S. Marshals Service?

Posted: 2:17 am ET
Updated: 12:21 pm PT
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We’ve heard from multiple sources that some 30-40 DS agents are leaving the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (State/DS) to join the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) and that there may be other group departures for other agencies.

One DS source speaking on background told us that the USMS Director reportedly called his counterpart at Diplomatic Security to inform the latter that he would be extending job offers to over 40 agents.  Another bureau source told us that during the “huddle” involving the DS agents prior to the start of the recent UNGA event in New York, the bureau’s second highest ranking official reportedly told the assembled agents that the departing agents would not be allowed back.

Does this mean that in addition to the shortage of approximately 200 agents discussed at the worldwide RSO conference this past May, there are 40 or more agent positions that will soon go vacant?

Whoa!

Our DS source speaking on background said that “there’s an overall discontent amongst mid-level DS agents and the main reason seems to stem from the current DS leadership.”

The DS insider cited the following main complaints that have reportedly bounced around the corridors:

  • “DS promotes the “good ol’ boys” and not necessarily the smart, motivated agents who are capable of leading the bureau. This leaves us with a lot of incompetent top-level DS agents and a lot of disgruntled lower lever DS agents.”
  • “DS is incapable of managing their promotions and assignments and, as a result, agents are frustrated with the lack of transparency. Also, there’s no one to complain to as AFSA seems to disregard DS completely. Almost as if the bureau is too far gone to save.”
  • “DS agents spend most of their time domestically, but DS does not allow DS agents to homestead, or stay in one field office for longer than one tour. This creates a lot of unnecessary hardships for families.”
    (A separate source told us that those serving on domestic assignments want to stay more than one tour in cities other than the District of Columbia and estimate that this would not only serve the U.S. government money from relocation costs but also allow agents to build continuity with prosecutors and other agencies).
  • “Regardless of gender, DS leadership is not concerned with family and does not provide a healthy work/life balance for any of their agents.”

We should point out that one of the bureaucratic casualties in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack was Charlene Lamb, who was then the Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs. In that capacity, she was responsible for managing and directing all international missions and personnel.

Back in August 2013, we wrote this:

The DS bureau has been described as in a “hell of hurt” these days.  Not only because it lost three of its top officials in one messy swoop, but also because one of those officials was an important cog in the assignment wheel of about 1,900 security officers.  If the assignments of DS agents overseas have been a great big mess for the last several months, you may account that to the fact that Ms. Lamb, the person responsible for managing and directing all Bureau of Diplomatic Security programs and policies including personnel, had been put inside a deep freezer.  While planning has never been a State Department strength, succession planning is altogether a foreign object.

Note and question of the day:  “Diplomatic Security is under intense pressure following Benghazi so now all resources are put towards “high threat” areas.  Nevertheless, experienced and well regarded DS officers at overseas posts are finding it impossible to stay out – even when they are the first choice for the receiving post.  

We should note that there are only 170 embassies, 78 consulates general and 11 consulates overseas.  There are not enough positions for all DS agents to fill overseas and majority of them do serve at domestic locations.

If it is true that the bureau has been “incapable of managing their promotions and assignments” in the last three years, then we can see why this could be frustrating enough to make agents decamp to other agencies.

Of course, the bureau can replace all those who are leaving, no matter the number. There is, after all, a large pool of applicants just waiting to be called to start new classes. (Note: There’s a rumor going on that DS reportedly had difficulty filling the last two DS agent classes because they were short of people on the list. We don’t know how this could be possible if DS has always had a full roster of qualified applicants on its list.  In 2015, it claimed to have 10,000 applicants but only assessed slightly over 500 applicants.)  

But that’s not really the point. Training takes time.  Time costs money. And above all, there is no instant solution to bridging the experience gap. If people are leaving, does the bureau know why?  If it doesn’t know why, is it interested in finding out the whys?  Is it interested in fixing the causes for these departures?

That low attrition rate

We were also previously told by a spokesperson that the overall Special Agent attrition rate for 2015 was 3.66%.  We have since been informed by a bureau source that this is an inaccurate attrition stats, as the figure released did not count agents who transition to other agencies, only those who leave U.S. Government service.

We’ve been trying to get a comment from Diplomatic Security since last week on agent departures. We’ve also requested clarification on the attrition rate released to us.  As of this writing, we have not received a response.

 

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@StateDept Honors DSS Agents For Heroism in the Radisson Blu Hotel Attack in Mali

Posted: 3:41 am ET
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