Report: @StateDept Puts On Leave Staffer Who Allegedly Oversees Local Chapter of a White Nationalist Group

 

 

On August 7, the Southern Poverty Law Center‘s Hatewatch program linked a staffer at the Bureau of Energy Resources (State/ENR) to a white nationalist organization in the Washington, D.C. area.  Hatewatch alleged in its report that this individual “oversaw the Washington, D.C.-area chapter of a white nationalist organization, hosted white nationalists at his home and published white nationalist propaganda online.”
We asked the State Department for a comment beyond what was already reported (that the agency is an “inclusive organization”). An agency spokesperson did confirm that this individual is employed by the agency as a foreign affairs officer assigned to the Bureau of Energy Resources. The Department further stated that it cannot comment on personnel issues but “is committed to providing an inclusive workplace.”
Reports indicate that the individual is a “foreign affairs officer“, a Civil Service position in the 0130 Foreign Affairs series. These positions are typically located in the DC area, and though may involved occasional travel, it is not a rotational position. Incumbents to these positions are normally required to “obtain and maintain a Top Secret security clearance” among other federal service requirements.
Barely 24 hours after the Hatewatch report broke, Politico, citing “two sources familiar with the situation” reported that the State Department has put the employee on leave following reports that “he has been an active member of a white supremacist group for more than five years.”
We’re waiting to see what the State Department will do with this case following the reported leave.  A 2017 article on federal employees’ rights notes that “At a minimum, before taking an adverse action like termination, an agency must issue a notice to the employee identifying the charge(s) against them. The employee has the right to see the evidence against them and the right to reply to the charge(s), as well as the right to have counsel represent them.”
Unlike political appointees who can be fired at anytime, career federal employees are generally afforded workplace protection. Recent media reports also show the fallout from recent high profile terminations. In one case, former Special Agent Peter Strzok firing resulted in a complaint alleging violations of Strzok’s First Amendment and due process rights, as well as a violation of the Privacy Act concerning the release of the text messages. Similarly, on August 8, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe also filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia over his demotion and dismissal from the FBI. The complaint alleges that the Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray’s actions violated both McCabe’s First Amendment and due process rights.  See the common thread there? We expect both court cases will be lengthy and instructive.
As an aside, Mick “it’s nearly impossible to fire a federal worker” Mulvaney has a grand new idea on how to get rid of federal employees; which should give people some pause whether they’re with Agriculture or anywhere else in the federal government.

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Dept of Commerce’s Chelsea Decaminada Injured in Sri Lanka Bombing Has Died

 

A  U.S.  Government employee seriously injured in the terror attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday died on May 4 as a result of injuries she suffered during the attacks.  Chelsea Decaminada worked as an international program specialist with the U.S. Department of Commerce and was on assignment in Sri Lanka. She previously served as a Peace Corps volunteer in  in Tanzania. She graduated from Duke University in 2015. RIP Chelsea Decaminada.

Trump Shutdown Day #21: Across America, Federal Hostages Are Hurting

Posted: 1:06 am EST

Today marks the 21st day of the Trump Shutdown, making it exactly as long as the 1995 Gingrich Shutdown, a 21-day shutdown which was apparently caused  by this pettiness: “Gingrich confessed he’d forced the closing of the federal government partly because Bill Clinton had relegated him to a rear cabin aboard Air Force One on the way home from Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral in Jerusalem.”

Then as now, the federal government furloughed 800,000 workers.

By Saturday, this sh*tshow, which somebody publicly said he is proud to own, will be the longest shutdown in history. Congress can do its duty as an equal branch of our government and pass a bill over the president’s objections and re-open the government. This requires a two-thirds vote in the House and in the Senate. A two-thirds supermajority in the Senate is 67 out of 100 senators, and  two-thirds supermajority in the House is 290 out of 435 representatives. The 116th Congress is now a 47 Democrat, 53 GOP split  in the Senate, while the House is 235 Democrat, 199 GOP. See the challenge there? But there is apparently already a bill to reopen the government, why won’t they call it on the floor for a vote? Is the leadership afraid that it will pass both houses, and the president would look worse when he vetoes it?

James Fallows writes: “On December 18, Mitch McConnell’s GOP-run Senate passed, on a unanimous voice vote, a “clean” funding measure, to keep the government open and postpone funding fights about “the wall.” They did so with guidance from the White House that Donald Trump would go along. Then the right-wing mocking began; then immediate funding for the wall became an “emergency”; then Trump preferred a shutdown to appearing to “lose.” Mitch McConnell’s GOP of course switched right along with him—and against the measure all of its members had supported just days ago. One man’s insecurity, and his party’s compliance, are disrupting millions of lives.”

Well, maybe some of these folks really believed that a 30-foot wall works over a 35-foot ladder or 30-feet tunnel or maybe all their spinal bones are just made of jello. The larger public may soon start to realize that these elected representatives do not much care for 800,000 of their fellow Americans and their families. Or care much for their fellow citizens and their families who rely on the people and services that make our government work. We’ve taken for granted that the checks and balances in our system works … but take a look.

As this shutdown continues, we are struck at the high tolerance for people and their families to be put in great hardship, all for a fucking wall that Mexico was supposed to pay.

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OSC’s Hatch Act Guidance: No Advocacy For/Against Impeachment, No #Resist, #ResistTrump Use

 

On November 27, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) — not Robert Mueller’s but the federal agency with authorities to investigate cases related to the Civil Service Reform Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Hatch Act, and the Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) — issued a new guidance regarding political activity. It says that  its Hatch Act Unit has received several questions regarding whether the following constitute “political activity” for purposes of the Hatch Act:

1. Is strong criticism or praise of an administration’s policies and actions considered political activity?

Criticism or praise that is directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group is political activity. Absent evidence that the criticism or praise is so directed, criticism or praise of an administration’s policies and actions is not considered political activity. Whether a particular statement constitutes political activity depends upon the facts and circumstances.

Consider, for example, the administration’s recent decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. An employee who strongly criticizes or praises that decision during a workplace discussion with a colleague in the days immediately following the decision is less likely to be engaging in political activity than one making those same statements in the run-up to the next presidential election—when the decision will likely have been out of the news for several years—to a colleague that the employee knows has strong feelings about
the subject.

Read more here.

2. Is advocating for or against impeachment of a candidate for federal office considered political activity?

Yes. Read more here.

3. Is activity related to “the Resistance” considered political activity?

To the extent that the statement relates to resistance to President Donald J. Trump, usage of the terms “resistance,” “#resist,” and derivatives thereof is political activity. We understand that the “resistance” and “#resist” originally gained prominence shortly after President Trump’s election in 2016 and generally related to efforts to oppose administration policies. However, “resistance,” “#resist,” and similar terms have become inextricably linked with the electoral success (or failure) of the president. During the period when President Trump was not considered by OSC to be a candidate for reelection the terms did not raise any Hatch Act concerns. Now that President Trump is a candidate for reelection, we must presume that the use or display of “resistance,” “#resist,” “#resistTrump,” and similar statements is political activity unless the facts and circumstances indicate otherwise.

Note that this presumption is only relevant to employee conduct that takes place on duty, in the workplace, while wearing an agency uniform or insignia, or while invoking any official authority or influence. Provided that they comply with the Hatch Act’s restrictions, employees are free to engage in political activity while off-duty and away from the federal workplace.

In OSC’s example, if you tweet “I must #resist the temptation to eat another donut from the break room” – you would not/not be engaging in political activity but OSC would presume that “the use or display of the hashtags #resist and #resistTrump, in isolation, is political activity under the Hatch Act.”  Read in full here.

The thing is, Foreign Service folks are considered on duty 24/7, so what does this guidance means in the real world? We’ve asked the OSC; will update if we hear anything back.

You may also call the Hatch Act Unit at 202-804-7002 or send an e-mail to Hatchact@osc.gov  for your Hatch Act-related questions.

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Ex-Federal Employee Hounded by YouKnowWho Gets a GoFundMe For Legal Defense Fund

Posted: 3:50 am ET

 

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House GOP to Use Holman Rule to Target Staff/Funds of the Congressional Budget Office #Bonkers

Posted: 2:06 pm ET
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In early January, we blogged about the Holman Rule, which was removed from the standing rules in 1983 but reinstated by House Republicans early this year (see House GOP Brings Back Holman Rule to “Retrench” Agency Spending, Cut Pay of Any Federal Employee. According to the Hill, the House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) is trying to eliminate 89 positions from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s staff and require the office to aggregate think tank data instead of using its own professional expertise. The Hill says that Meadows would use the Holman Rule. “In an amendment to be offered to the security-related spending bill scheduled for a House vote this week, Meadows would cut $15 million of funding to CBO staff members responsible for estimating the budgetary costs of bills in Congress…”

This is bonkers.  They don’t like the Congressional Budget Office’s scores, so they’ll eliminate 89 positions and slash the agency’s funding. If they succeed in doing this, they could replicate this at any agency. It will hasten the death of expertise in federal agencies and we will be left with whatever desirable facts and fancy reports will be rolled out by the administration of the day based on aggregated reports from preferred think tanks.

The “Holman Rule” in the rules package passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 234 to 193. WaPo previously reported in January that a majority of the House and the Senate would still have to approve any amendment to an appropriations bill that targets a specific government employee or program, but that its passage put agencies and the public on notice that their work is now vulnerable to the whims of elected officials.

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Decision Window For Federal Long Term Care Insurance With Shocking Premium Hike Closes 9/30/16

Posted: 3:01 am ET
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Excerpted from CRS Insight (PDF), September 2016 via Secrecy News:

On July 16, 2016, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced a premium rate increase for long-term care insurance policies purchased through the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP). The new rates were established following an open competitive bidding process. That process awarded a new seven-year contract to the prior insurer and sole bidder, John Hancock Life & Health Insurance Company, to continue providing coverage. According to OPM, the higher premiums are based on an analysis that used updated assumptions of industry trends and claims experience. The analysis determined that current FLTCIP premiums were not sufficient to meet projected costs and benefits. Most federal workers enrolled in FLTCIP are affected by the premium increase (an estimated 264,000 of the 274,000 enrollees).

During OPM’s 2016 Enrollee Decision Period, enrollees affected by the rate increase have until September 30, 2016, to decide whether to:

(1) keep their current coverage and pay the increase;
(2) reduce coverage in order to maintain their current premium; or
(3) allow their policies to lapse (i.e., drop coverage in the program).

Rate increases are scheduled to take effect November 1, 2016.
[…]
According to news sources, premiums are expected to increase by 83%, on average. Some Members of Congress have expressed their concerns to OPM leadership and John Hancock about such dramatic increases, calling for more time for enrollees to assess options as well as for congressional hearings on the issue.

Rate Stability and Long-Term Care Insurance

Federal workers are not the only policyholders to face LTCI premium increases. Over the past two decades, annual LTCI premiums have increased significantly overall for both current and new policyholders. Higher average premiums reflect increased demand for more comprehensive benefit packages (including inflation protection) and higher daily benefit amounts. Premium increases have also been driven by inadequate medical underwriting, premiums that were initially set too low, and insufficient growth in reserves to cover future claims. Thus, premium or rate stability depends largely on the ability of insurers to adequately predict future claims. Most policies issued before the mid-2000s have incorrectly predicted claims, necessitating changes to key pricing assumptions. For example, rising claims, lower mortality rates, lower-than-predicted voluntary termination (lapse) rates, and lower-than-predicted rates of return on investments have been cited as key reasons for LTCI premium increases. Nevertheless, large rate increases, such as those proposed by the FLTCIP, are likely to have a continued effect on consumer confidence in these products, possibly leading to further reductions in consumer demand.

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Watch Out! Hatch Act Snares HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Other Federal Employees

Posted: 3:38 am ET
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On July 18, 2016, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) announced its finding that Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro violated the Hatch Act during a Yahoo News interview on April 4, 2016. According to OSC’s report, Secretary Castro’s statements during the interview “impermissibly mixed his personal political views with official agency business despite his efforts to clarify that some answers were being given in his personal capacity.”

OSC apparently conducted an investigation after receiving a complaint about the interview. The OSC stresses that “federal employees are permitted to make partisan remarks when speaking in their personal capacity, but not when using their official title or when speaking about agency business.” The investigation concludes:

While the Hatch Act allows federal employees, including cabinet secretaries, to express their personal views about candidates and political issues as private citizens, it restricts employees from using their official government positions for partisan political purposes. In passing this law, Congress intended to promote public confidence in the Executive branch by ensuring that the federal government is working for all Americans without regard to their political views. Despite his efforts to clarify that he was speaking only for himself and not as a HUD official when answering political questions, Secretary Castro’s statements impermissibly mixed his personal political views with official government agency business.

OSC’s report can be found here (PDF) or read it below.  Secretary Castro’s response can be found here (PDF).

Take note of these other cases:

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@StateDept Ranks #3 in Happiest Senior Executives, Mind the Happiness Gap

Posted: 12:50 am  EDT
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This report is based on the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), a tool that “measures employees’ perceptions of whether, and to what extent, conditions characterizing successful organizations are present in their agencies.” The full report is available here.