Tillerson’s Hiring/Lateral Transfer Freeze: What Priorities Shape Staffing Freeze Exceptions?

Posted: 1:40 am ET
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So Secretary Tillerson has apparently lifted the hiring freeze for WAEs to work the FOIA shop (FS retirees from any agency and CS retirees from DOS are eligible), but Diplomatic Security could not get one position established for its Mobile Security Deployments Office because there is still a freeze on hiring and lateral transfers for the rest of the Foggy Bottom universe?

Diplomatic Security’s Office of Mobile Security Deployments (MSD) is the agency’s emergency security support, crisis response, and special mission component. MSD was originally established in 1985 under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s (DS) Directorate for Training to provide training and security support to overseas posts. As a result of the 9/11 attacks, the Department in 2002 expanded MSD’s mission to include:

  • Security Support Teams, which deploy to embassies or consulates during periods of immediate threat of terrorist or criminal activity, crisis, natural disaster, or other unusual event.
  • Tactical Support Teams, which provide protection for the Secretary of State and other high-risk VIPs, both domestically and as required when the Secretary is traveling abroad.
  • Integrated Mobile Training Teams, which provide specialized security training at overseas posts for U.S. Government employees and to foreign partners.

According to State/OIG, MSD is authorized 104 Foreign Service, 24 Civil Service, and 26 contractor positions. At the time of the inspection, 25 percent of the Foreign Service positions were unfilled.

DS leadership acknowledged that MSD is critical to the security and safety of the Secretary and the Department’s embassies and consulates. Nonetheless, the office faced, on average, a 13.7 percent shortfall in staffing in the three years prior to 2017. This staffing shortfall resulted in 14 agent positions, or two and a half teams, being unstaffed. The staffing shortfall increased in 2017 to 38 percent; a shortfall of 38 agent positions or staffing for six and a half teams. In addition to reducing the number of teams it deployed, the staffing shortfall also required MSD to prioritize Security Support Team and Tactical Support Team missions over Integrated Mobile Training Team missions. As a result, MSD frequently had to reschedule training missions to address more urgent priorities.

In FY 2016, MSD teams deployed 70 times, often on short notice for periods up to 2 months or more, to locales where U.S. embassies and consulates faced serious security threats. Additionally, from July 2014 through April 2017, MSD dedicated 6 of its 10 teams to continuous missions in South Sudan and Somalia, leaving only 4 teams to address other crises or provide needed training. In December 2016, when every available team was deployed on priority missions, MSD trained senior agents, not normally deployed, to create an additional team in case another crisis arose. DS senior leadership acknowledged the need for additional MSD agents but also recognized DS’ bureau-wide shortage of agents. […] MSD met the standards in 1 FAM 262.5-3(1), which require the office to provide Security Support Teams for emergency support to overseas posts during periods of high threats, crises, or natural disasters. The office also met Department standards in 12 FAH-1 H-024.1-2b, which state that Security Support Teams should provide time-sensitive protective security for ambassadors, post personnel, or facility protection, to generally counter a direct or imminent threat of attack. MSD deployed 25 Security Support Teams in FY 2015, 18 in FY 2016, and 10 through the first 7 months of FY 2017. Among the missions conducted from September 2016 through April 2017, MSD provided protective support during the ordered departure of Embassy Kinshasa personnel due to political protests. During the same period, MSD also provided a protective detail for the Ambassador and a tactical operations center at Embassy Juba in the face of civil unrest. Other Security Support Team missions included support to U.S. embassies in the Gambia, Mauritania, the Republic of the Congo, and Somalia. While at a post, Security Support Teams also provided training to regional security officers, Marine Security Guards, the local guard force and American family members in an effort to strengthen their capability to meet future crises.

The State/OIG report notes that MSD did not have anyone permanently assigned to provide high-level oversight for its administrative operations and procedures per GAO suggestion. So last year, MSD apparently established a temporary position for an employee to exercise high-level, unified oversight of the MSD administrative functions.

OIG found that the two DS Special Agents, each of whom held the position for only a few months, were instrumental in implementing significant improvements in MSD personal property internal controls, including the examples described above. These Special Agents also prepared, drafted or updated 50 standard operating procedures on all areas of MSD operations. Based on these accomplishments, OIG concluded that there is a compelling justification to establish a permanent position to maintain the improvements and to provide long-term stability in the direct oversight of contracts, budget, and property management. Without permanent senior oversight, the office risks reverting to its former practices, including an inability to effectively manage SPE.

SPE stands for Sensitive Protective Equipment which refers to equipment, such as weapons and optical equipment like night-vision goggles, issued to agents in support of their law enforcement, security, and protective missions. State/OIG recommended that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security “should make the Office of Mobile Security Deployments’ temporary administrative chief a permanent position.”

Management Response: In its October 13, 2017, response, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security concurred with the recommendation. The bureau noted that it had updated the internal organizational structure of the office to depict the new position. The bureau further stated that once the Department’s restrictions on hiring and lateral transfers are lifted, it would attempt to establish the position in the General Schedule to ensure permanence and continuity.

Read the full report here.

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