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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@StateDept’s Patrick Kennedy Is Back in the Spotlight, and Now, Election Fodder

Posted: 1:56 pm ET
Updated: Oct 18, 3:47 PT
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Back in August, we wrote about the State Department’s “M” (see The State Department’s Mr. Fix-It of Last Resort Gets the Spotlight).  On October 17, with the released of more FBI interview summaries (not transcripts), Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy is back in the spotlight. Click here to read the lengthy discussion about this during the Daily Press Briefing. Two congressional reps, you can guess who, have called for his removal.  The State Department and Secretary Kerry have expressed their full confidence on U/S Kennedy according to the official spokesperson.  Meanwhile, on the campaign trail in Wisconsin …

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Congress “Examines” @StateDept FOIA Compliance, Talks Hillary, Hillarrry, Hillarrrrry

Posted: 4:20 pm ET
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On September 8, the House Oversight and Reform Committee (HOGR) held a hearing Examining FOIA Compliance at the State Department. The hearing has four State Department officials as witnesses starting with Patrick Kennedy, the Under Secretary for Management and Janice Jacobs, the agency’s Transparency Coordinator. It also includes two staffers from the Executive Secretariat. Some members expressed appreciation for the work these officials have done, one referring to them as “clean-up” people at State.

For the most part, it’s the kind of theater that we’ve come to expect from the Congress. One member asked about the Yemen War and the arm sales to Saudi Arabia. In an FOIA hearing.  More than a couple members used the hearing to throw darts at the absent Hillary Clinton. No, no response required from any of the witnesses in those segments. Another member wants the State Department to go get Colin Powell’s emails from his tenure at the State Department. A member brought up Colin Powell’s role in the lead up to the Iraq War. There was a bit of discussion on retroactive classification and Foreign Government Information (FGI). Another member wanted to know the names of the people who are processing and redacting FOIA requests. We stopped watching when Chaffetz did a quiz show on what Congress should not be able to see.  We include the links below to the prepared statements of the State Department officials as well as the hearing page here, if you want to watch the video.

Oh, get ready, apparently over the next few days, the Committee will hold a couple more hearings like this. On September 12, it will hold a hearing on classification and redactions in FBI’s investigative file. On September 13, it will hold a hearing on the preservation of records at the State Department. This last one is also called an “examination.” By October, we might see hearings focusing on an Examination of the State Department’s Cafeteria Selection.  It remains to be seen if the next hearings will result in any findings at all, or if perhaps this is nothing but a roundabout way of getting folks an audition for spoken entertainment with Audible.

 

The Honorable Patrick F. Kennedy Under Secretary for Management U.S. Department of State Document
The Honorable Janice Jacobs Transparency Coordinator U.S. Department of State Document
Ms. Karin Lang Director, Executive Secretariat U.S. Department of State Document
Mr. Clarence N. Finney, Jr. Deputy Director for Correspondence, Records, and Staffing Division, Executive Secretariat U.S. Department of State Document

Here’s the GOP side talking about putting the “e” at the end of potato and Hilary Clinton.

Here’s the Dems talking about the GOP and Hillary Clinton.

Welcome to the next 60 days of depressing nightmare on the Hill, in addition to the other one unfolding on teeve. Excuse us now, we’ll just go find us some cats for therapy.

 

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HOGR Democrats Invoke 1928 Statute Then Release in Full Colin Powell’s Email Tips to #HillaryClinton

Posted: 1:45 am ET
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Remember when former Secretary of State Colin Powell said this:

On September 7, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (HOGR), publicly released an email exchange between former Secretary of State Colin Powell and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in January 2009 on the use of blackberry and personal email. The bit about official records is going to drive FOIA advocate nuts.

According to Cummings’ press release, he obtained the email exchange between Secretary Powell and Secretary Clinton through a unique statutory provision known as the “Seven Member Rule” in which any seven members of the Oversight Committee may obtain federal records from federal agencies.

The Seven Member Rule is unique authority passed by Congress and signed by the President in 1928 that requires any executive agency to “submit any information requested of it relating to any matter within the jurisdiction of the committee” when requested by seven members of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The Members requested the Powell-Clinton emails by September 6, 2016. Two emails were produced by the State Department to the House Oversight Committee on September 6, 2016, and clearly marked “NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE.”  But of course, it was publicly released in full on September 7, 2016 with only one redaction; presumably, Secretary Powell’s AOL email address.

 

Read directly via the House Oversight Committee here (PDF).

 

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JW v. @StateDept: Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy’s Testimony (Transcript)

Posted: 2:27 am ET
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On June 30, Judicial Watch released the transcript of the deposition conducted with the State Department’s Under Secretary for ManagementPatrick F. Kennedy.  Read below or read the original post here.

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Painless Process Exhibit: A Schedule C Employee Takes a Job at the State Department

Posted: 2:46  am ET
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Remember in 2014,  when the State Department officially rejected criticisms that too many top diplomatic jobs have gone to political appointees rather than to career foreign service officers? The official who rebutted that criticism was the spokesperson of the State Department, Jennifer Psaki, a former political operative and herself, a political appointee (see Political Appointee Rejects Criticisms of Too Many Political Picks at the State Department).

Below is part of an FOIA case filed by Judicial Watch that shows what happens when a Schedule C political appointee gets a job at the State Department. Let us not kid ourselves.  This has been going on for years and years.  This goes on with every new administration. But this is the first time, we get a look at the discussion that goes on behind the scene. It also shows just how deeply the political appointees moved into the bureaucracy in places like IRM where you would not expect to find one. Poor IRM folks did not even know what is a PAS.

Here are a few things we learned:

  • Somebody needs to write a position description (PD) that fits the Schedule C employee to be; no need for USAjobs.gov
  • The position description needs to be classified per OPM guidance for GS position. No worries, somebody will make that happened.
  • Once the position is OPM-classified, bringing the Schedule C employee onboard takes 2-4 weeks.
  • Schedule C pay will match current pay
  • Schedule C employee reports to a PAS; not a traditional supervisor/employee position.

Read the emails below:

 

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Clinton Email: Presidential Memo to Establish Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI) Position on a Permanent Basis

Posted: 1:01 am ET
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In 2009, President Obama nominated Melanne Verveer to be the first ever US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues at the Department of State.  Previously, she was Co-Founder, Chair and Co-CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international nonprofit that invests in emerging women leaders – pioneers of economic, political and social progress in their countries. Prior to founding Vital Voices, Verveer served as Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady in the Clinton Administration and was chief assistant to then First Lady Hillary Clinton in her international activities.

The Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI), is currently headed by Ambassador Catherine M. Russell who was appointed to the position in August 2013. Prior to assuming this position, she served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden focusing on military families and higher education.

 

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@StateDept Seeks to Limit Discovery in Clinton Email FOIA Court Case, Spox Can’t Say Why

Posted: 2:15 am ET
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Below is the State Department’s court filing via Politico:

On April 6, this obviously made it to the Daily Press Briefing:

QUESTION: — knowing that you’ll probably refer me to the Department of Justice. But – so yesterday or late yesterday there was a filing in the FOIA – the email FOIA – one of them, on the discovery – the order to grant discovery.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And I’m just curious about this, because I haven’t actually seen the order, I’ve just read the stories about it. What does the department, through its lawyers, claim to be its standing for trying to limit the scope of questions asked of ex-employees?

MR TONER: So —

QUESTION: I mean, I can understand why you would be making a motion on behalf of current employees. And I could probably even understand why you say that this – they are being asked about their activities while they were in government. But this seems to be something – I mean, shouldn’t their own lawyers be making this kind of a motion? Why is the State Department making it?

MR TONER: So I appreciate the question and understand your interest in the story. You are correct insofar as – well, first of all, we did submit a filing with the court last night on this matter. But I cannot comment on the actual content of that court filing, because this is something that’s already – or that is a matter of ongoing litigation, so I can’t even comment on your question because it would speak to this matter that’s still in litigation.

QUESTION: Can you tell me if it says in there – I mean, maybe I’m just completely naive and ignorant —

MR TONER: I don’t have it in front —

QUESTION: — about this.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: But does it explain in this motion how it is that the department has standing to make such a request on behalf of a former employee?

MR TONER: Again, I can’t speak specifically to this matter, but I can say that the department’s engaged on any given year in litigation before federal courts, administrative and arbitral tribunals. And depending on the facts —

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: — applicable procedures, and nature of the claims, we do – there may be discovery, but it is case by case.

QUESTION: No, I understand that.

MR TONER: And so – yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, the answer to my question could be very, very simple, that it’s – that it – it could be that it’s completely normal —

MR TONER: You’re asking whether it applies to ex-employees?

QUESTION: Well – no, it does. I know that the motion does cover them. I’m just curious as to what the —

MR TONER: What the rationale is?

QUESTION: Right. I mean, it may be very straightforward, that because they’re being asked to talk about stuff they did while they were in government that you do have some kind of standing to speak on their behalf.

MR TONER: And I will see if I can get you any —

QUESTION: And I’m just wondering if —

MR TONER: — more clarity on that.

QUESTION: Right. Thanks.

MR TONER: But I have to just preface that by saying —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: — I am restricted in what I can say when something – it’s an ongoing litigation.

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Email of the Day: Wow! What’s With These @StateDept “Make Them Whole” Awards?

Posted: 1:50 am EDT
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Via foia.state.gov released through the Leopold v. State Department FOIA litigation. These “make them whole” awards are given because the “sucessesors (sic) got the award and they didn’t.” Wait, what? Does this mean the employees got these awards because the folks who followed them on these jobs got the awards but they didn’t? Help us, we don’t understand this award type. Is this like those competition where everyone gets a trophy?

 

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Court Grants Request to Interview Clinton Aides and @StateDept Officials Under Oath Over Email Saga

Posted: 3:57 am EDT
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On February 23, Judge Emmet Sullivan of the District Court of the District of Columbia granted Judicial Watch’s (JW) motion for discovery. The case is Judicial Watch vs. U.S. Department of State (Civil Action No. 13-cv-1363 (EGS)). Court records say that JW will need to submit a Discovery Plan To Court and Counsel by 3/15/2016. The State Department’s response is due by 4/5/2016 and JW’s reply is due by 4/15/2016.

Below is an excerpt from JW’s Motion for Discovery:

While Mrs. Clinton ultimately returned approximately 55,000 pages of federal records from this “off-grid” system to the State Department, the process for identifying the federal records on the system was undertaken by Mrs. Clinton’s private attorneys, individuals only accountable to the former secretary, not employees accountable to the Department. In addition, there is no evidence that the process complied with appropriate federal records laws, rules, and regulations. The net result is that the integrity of the State Department’s FOIA process has been completely and thoroughly undermined to the substantial detriment of FOIA requesters like Plaintiff who submitted requests to the Department implicating Mrs. Clinton’s official email. In addition to ensuring that the State Department has satisfied its FOIA obligations with respect to the request at issue in this case, a compelling need exists to restore the integrity of the FOIA process at the State Department and ensure accountability for the FOIA violations that occurred. Before this can be accomplished, however, Plaintiff requires discovery to uncover and present admissible evidence to the Court about whether the State Department and Mrs. Clinton deliberately thwarted FOIA. Plaintiff also requires discovery of the system itself to determine possible methods for recovering whatever responsive records may still exist. The Court therefore should grant Plaintiff time to conduct discovery and obtain admissible evidence.
[…]

Plaintiff submits that discovery of the following facts about the use of the “clintonemail.com” system are necessary for the Court to determine whether the State Department and Mrs. Clinton deliberately thwarted FOIA:

• Who at the State Department besides Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Abedin used an email address on the “clintonemail.com” system to conduct official government business;

• Who at the State Department knew that Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Abedin were using “clintonemail.com” email addresses to conduct official government business;

• Were any State Department monies, resources, or personnel used to create the “clintonemail.com” system;

• Was Mrs. Clinton assigned a “state.gov” email address and, if not, why was she not assigned one;

• Why did the State Department not provide Mrs. Clinton with any personal computing devices to conduct official government business;

• Was Mrs. Clinton advised at any point to use a “state.gov” email address to conduct official government business instead of a “clintonemail.com” email address;

• Was Ms. Abedin advised to use her “state.gov” email address exclusively to conduct official government business;

• Under what circumstances did Ms. Abedin use the “clintonemail.com” system to conduct official government business;

• From January 21, 2009 to the day that the New York Times reported that Mrs. Clinton used the “off-grid” system, how did the State Department handle FOIA and other legal requests that implicated Mrs. Clinton’s email;

• From January 21, 2009 to the day that the New York Times reported that Mrs. Clinton used the “off-grid” system, did anyone at the State Department consider publicly disclosing the use of the “clintonemail.com” system to conduct official government business;

• Who at the State Department assisted Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Abedin in using the “clintonemail.com” system or enabled them to use it to conduct official government business;

• Did the State Department deliberately conceal the existence of the “clintonemail.com” system from the public, and, if so, who at the State Department assisted with ensuring that the public would not find out about the use of the system to conduct official government business;

• Were State Department employees instructed not to inform the public or the National Archives and Records Administration about the use of the “clintonemail.com” system; and

• At any time between January 21, 2009 and the day that the New York Times reported that Mrs. Clinton used the “off-grid” system was any State Department employee disciplined or reprimanded for questioning the use of the “clintonemail.com” system to conduct official government business.

The discovery motion says JW will need “to depose State Department officials or employees who had oversight and management responsibilities relating to information systems at the department, as well as officials or employee who were involved in planning and assisting with Mrs. Clinton’s transition and arrival at the State Department.”

The names cited in the court filing includes the Under Secretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy, the Director of IPS John F. Hackett and the Executive Secretary Joseph E. Macmanus.

Just so you know it doesn’t stop there, the filing also includes this:

To the extent relevant personnel have left the State Department’s employment, Plaintiff may have to serve third party deposition and/or document subpoenas on such persons after they have been identified. It also may include third party depositions and/or document requests to private persons or entities who may have advised or assisted Mrs. Clinton on the establishment of the system, including persons registered the domain name and obtained, set up, and coordinated the equipment, software, data files, etc. needed for the system. It may also include the submission of interrogatories and document requests to the State Department.

On October 3, 1984, Judge Sullivan was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve as an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. On November 25, 1991, Judge Sullivan was appointed by President George H. W. Bush to serve as an Associate Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. On June 16, 1994, Judge Sullivan was appointed by President William J. Clinton to serve as United States District Judge for the District of Columbia. Here’s the troubled judge:

Professor Jonathan Turley writes that “any depositions might result in refusals to testify by key officials. The invocation of Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination would have significant political impacts. After all, no one would suggest that Sullivan is part of a right-wing conspiracy or runaway investigation. The refusal to testify would reflect the real danger of tripping the wire on federal classification laws as well as more general concerns that statements conflicting statements with those government investigators could trigger charges under 18 U.S.C. 1001.” Read more below:

Read the entire motion here:

 

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