All Promotions Into/Within the Senior Foreign Service Must be Vetted by White House?

Posted: 1:23 am  ET

 

State/HR recently sent a Frequently Asked Questions to newly promoted OCs concerning the differences between being an FS-01, the highest rank in the regular Foreign Service, and as OC, the starter rank in the Senior Foreign Service. The FAQ talks about pay, bidding, EERs, benefits, and of course, promotions. And then there’s this question, and apparent answer:

Q: When are promotions from FS-01 to OC effective?
Answer: Promotion boards issue a list in the fall of officers “recommended” for promotion from FS-01 to OC, OC to MC and MC to CM. However, all promotions into and within the Senior Foreign Service must be vetted by the White House, confirmed by the Senate and attested by the President. This process can take several months. Promotions into and within the SFS are effective the first pay period following Presidential attestation. However, you may start bidding as an OC as soon as the promotion list is released by the board.

Yo! You know this is nuts, right? The White House can barely vet its own staffers, and it will now vet all promotions of FSOs into and within the Senior Foreign Service? With one exception that we are aware of (and we’ll write about that case separately), this WH vetting requirement is new, and yes, we remember the “improved” vetting required by the SFRC back in 2015 (SFRC Bullies Diplomats Up For Promotion to Self-Certify They Have Not Been Convicted of Any Crime).  Is the WH also vetting all senior promotions out of the Pentagon? Who’s going to be doing this and what does this vetting includes? Also whose great idea was this, pray tell?  Will State/HR and A/DGHR soon say that this vetting has always been done by the White House since the beginning of whatevs?

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A Look at @StateDept Staffing Losses Between FY2016-FY2017 #ThisCouldGetWorse

Posted: 12:28 pm PT
Updated: Feb 13, 2:02 pm PT

 

We’ve written previously about staffing and attrition at the State Department in this blog. We’ve decided to put the staffing numbers in FY16 and FY17 next to each other for comparison. The numbers are publicly released by State/HR, and links are provided below.

Since the State Department had also released an update of its staffing numbers dated December 31, 2017 for the first quarter of FY2018, we’ve added that in the table below.

FY2016 saw a high water mark in the total number of State Department employees worldwide at 75,231.  There were 13,980 Foreign Service employees (officers and specialists), 11,147 Civil Service employees and 50,104 locally employed (LE) staff members at 275 overseas posts.

The Trump Administration took office on January 20, 2017. On February 1, 2017, Rex W. Tillerson was sworn in as the 69th Secretary of State. With the exception of the month of January, note that Secretary Tillerson was at the helm at State for eight months in FY2017 (February-September 30, 2017), and the first three months of FY2018 (October 2017-December 2017).

With 75,231 overall number as our marker, we find that the State Department overall was reduced by 351 employees at the end of FY2017.  On the first quarter of FY18, this number was reduced further by 476 employees.  Between September 30, 2016, and December 31, 2017 — 15 months — the agency was reduced  overall by 827 employees (including LE employees).

FY2017 did see six, that’s right, six new FS specialists, and 256 LE staffers added to its rolls (see That FSS Number for additional discussion on that six FSS gains). Note that LE staffers are generally host country nationals paid in local compensation plans with non-dollarized salaries.

Data also shows that there were 68 more FS/CS employees overseas. We interpret this to mean 68 more FS/CS employees assigned overseas, and not/not necessarily new hires. The FSO ranks were reduced by 107 officers, and the Civil Service corps was reduced by 500 out of a total of 25,127 American employees by September 2017. The Foreign Service was further reduced by 197 employees, and the Civil Service reduced by 144 employees by December 31, 2017.

Tillerson on Track

Mr. Tillerson goal is reportedly to reduce the department’s full-time American employees by 8 percent by the end of September 2018, the date by which Mr. Tillerson has purportedly promised to complete the first round of cuts. A November 2017 report  calculated the 8 percent as 1,982 people with 1,341 expected to retire or quit, and 641 employees expected to take buyouts. The data below indicates that the State Department’s American FS/CS employees at 25,127 in FY2016 was reduced by 948 employees by December 31, 2017, a reduction of 3.8 percent.  If the buyouts, as reported, occurs in April 2018, Tillerson would be at 6.3 percent reduction by spring, with five months to get to the remaining 1.7 percent to make his 8 percent target by September 30. And this is just the first round.

Projected Attrition

In 2016, the State Department already projected that between FY 2016 and FY 2020, close to 5,400 career FS and CS employees (21 percent) will leave the Department due to various types of attrition (non-retirements, retirements, voluntary, involuntary). That’s an average of 1,080 reduction each fiscal year from FY2016-FY2020.  Even without a threat of staff reduction, it was already anticipated that the State Department was going to shrink by 1,080 employees every year until 2020.  We think that part of this estimate has to do with the graying of the federal service, and the mandatory age retirement for the Foreign Service, but also because of the built-in RIF in the Foreign Service with its “up or out” system. Anytime we hear the State Department trimming its promotion numbers, we also anticipate more departures for people who could not get promoted.

It’s Not a RIF, Just Shrinking the Promotion Numbers

Tillerson made the staff reduction his own by announcing a staffing cut and a buyout. This was obviously a mistake, but what do we know? What this signals to us is a lack of understanding of how the system was intended to work most especially in the Foreign Service. This is a mistake that he could have easily avoided had he not walled himself away from career people who knew the building and the system that he was trying to redesign.

Yes, the reduction in State Department workforce was in the stars whether Tillerson became Secretary of State or not. There is a regular brain drain because the Foreign Service is an “up or out” system. Some diplomats who are at the prime of their careers but are not promoted are often forced to leave.  But to get more people to leave, Tillerson does not even need to announce a RIF, he only need to shrink the promotion numbers. A source familiar with the numbers told us that in 2017, 41 FSOs were promoted from FS01 to the Senior Foreign Service (SFS), down from an average over the past five years of 101, or a 60% decrease. Across the Foreign Service, we understand that the average decrease in promotion numbers is about 30% percent.

In the rules books, the Director General of the Foreign Service is supposed to determine the number of promotions of members of the Foreign Service reviewed by the selection boards by “taking into account such factors as vacancies, availability of funds, estimated attrition, projected needs of the Service, and the need for retention of expertise and experience.” This decisions is based on “a systematic, long-term projection of personnel flows and needs designed to provide: (1)  A regular, predictable flow of recruitment into the Service; (2)  Effective career development to meet Service needs; and (3)  A regular, predictable flow of talent upwards through the ranks and into the SFS.”

The State Department does not even have a Senate-confirmed DGHR. The last Senate confirmed Director General Arnold Chacon left his post in June 2017 (see DGHR Arnold Chacón Steps Down, One More @StateDept Office Goes Vacant). Bill Todd who is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary is now acting Director General of the Foreign Service & acting Director of Human Resources, as well as “M” Coordinator. The Trump Administration has nominated ex-FSO  Stephen Akard to be the next DGHR (see Ten Ex-Directors General Call on the SFRC to Oppose Stephen Akard’s Confirmation).

Burning Both Ends of the Candle

The surprise is not that people are leaving, it is that people that you don’t expect to leave now are leaving or have left. An ambassador who retires in the middle of a three-year tenure. The highest ranking female diplomat who potentially could have been “P” retired. A senior diplomat retiring while at the pinnacle of his diplomatic career five years short of mandatory age retirement. A talented diplomat calling it quits while there’s a whole new world yet to be explored. The highest numbers of departures are occurring at the Minister Counselor level, and at the FS01s and below level (PDF). That said, these numbers as released and shown below, are still within the previously projected attrition numbers for FY2017. The FY2018 numbers is the one we’re anxious to see.

Tillerson’s staff reduction is not even the most glaring problem he gave himself. Basically, Tillerson’s State Department is burning both ends of the candle. The diplomatic ranks were reduced by 225 in December 31 last year but State will reportedly only hire a hundred in FY2018. There are rumors of only hiring at 3 for 1 to attrition. If this is the plan, Tillerson will surely shrink the diplomatic service but by not ensuring a smooth flow of new blood into the Service, he will put the institution and its people at risk. For instance, there are about 2,000 Diplomatic Security agents. Let’s say 21 percent or 420 agents leave the agency between now and 2020, and the State Department hires 140 new agents during the same period. The work will still be there, it will just remain unfilled or the positions get eliminated. A three-person security office could shrink to two, to one, or none. In the meantime, the United States has 275 posts overseas, including high threat/high risk priority posts that require those security agents.  What happens then? Are we going to see more contractors? Since contractor numbers are typically not released by the State Department, we won’t have any idea how many will supplement the agency’s workforce domestically and overseas.

The Foreign Service Specialists (FSS) Count

So if we look at the first table below (thanks JR), note that the total Foreign Service Specialists (FSSs) number is 5,821. A State Department release in November 29, 2017 confirms the 5,821 figure. But this figure as you can see here (PDF) includes Consular Fellow gains (previously known as Consular Adjudicators) in FY2017 (231), FY2016 (141), FY2015 (70), FY2014 (35) and FY2013 (37). The numbers are not clear from FY13 and FY14 because the counts were not done at the end of the fiscal year but midyear and end of the year. As best we can tell, the State Department HR Fact Sheet counts Consular Fellows as part of its FSS count in fiscal years 2015-2017.

The result is that the career FSS count is artificially inflated by the inclusion of the Consular Fellows in the count. While the first table below shows an FSS gain of six specialists, in reality, the CF inclusion in the count hides the career FSS losses in the last three fiscal years that ended. Why does that count matter? Because the Consular Fellow LNA appointments max out at 60 months.

11/29/17  Department of State Facts About Our Most Valuable Asset – Our People (September 30, 2017 Counts) 

Consular Fellows are hired via limited non-career appointments (LNAs). The Consular Fellows program, similar to its predecessor, the Consular Adjudicator Limited Non-Career Appointment (CA LNA) program, is not an alternate entry method to the Foreign Service or the U.S. Department of State, i.e. this service does not lead to onward employment at the U.S. Department of State or with the U.S. government. In fact state.gov notes that Consular Fellows are welcome to apply to become Foreign Service Specialists, Foreign Service Generalists, or Civil Service employees, but they must complete the standard application and assessment processes. So for Congressional folks keeping track of the career Foreign Service numbers, this would be a notable distinction.

Trump’s 2019 Budget and the Next 27% Cut

Trump’s fiscal 2019 proposed budget includes a 27% cut to the State Department. This potentially could get a lot worse; when the Administration starts shrinking programs, and priorities at this rate, it will inevitably create a cascading effect impacting overseas presence and personnel. State Department officials may say no post closures, and no reduction-in-force now but we probably will see those down the road, even if not immediately.  Remember when State was shrunk in the early 1990’s? It took a while before people could start picking up the pieces, and the replenishment for the workforce did not happen until almost a decade later. (see The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA).

Still, we have to remind ourselves that the budget proposal is just that, a proposal, and that Congress has the power of the purse. Is it foolish to hang our hopes on our elected reps?

HR Fact Sheet as of December 31, 2017 (PDF)

HR Fact Sheet as of 9/30/2017 (PDF)
Oops, looks like this file was subsequently removed after post went up.
See copy via the Internet Archive

HR Fact Sheet as of 9/30/2016 (Archived PDF)

HR Fact Sheet as of 9/30/2015 (PDF)

Below is a bonus chart with the FY2015 staffing numbers (yellow column#1), and the gains/losses between September 2015 to December 2017 (yellow column ##2). We’re sure that Mr. Tillerson’s aides would say that yes, there are staffing losses but look, the State Department’s overall workforce is still larger at the end of 2017 when compared to 2015. And that is true. Except that if you look closely at the numbers, you will quickly note that the gains of 1,346 employees are all LE staffers on local compensation.

 

Related posts:

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Senate Confirmations: Promotion List – Senior FSOs to Class of Career Minister

Posted: 12:26 am ET
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The following-named Career Members of the Senior Foreign Service of the Department of State for promotion within the Senior Foreign Service of the United States of America, Class of Career Minister (FE-CM):

Robert Stephen Beecroft California
Arnold A. Chacon Virginia
Tracey Ann Jacobson District of Columbia
Geoffrey R. Pyatt California
Marie L. Yovanovitch Connecticut

2016-12-07 PN1909 Foreign Service | Nominations beginning Robert Stephen Beecroft, and ending Marie L. Yovanovitch, which 5 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on November 29, 2016.

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Senate Confirmations: Promotion List – Senior FSOs to Class of Minister-Counselor

Posted: 12:24 am ET
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The following-named Career Members of the Senior Foreign Service of the Department of State for promotion within the Senior Foreign Service of the United States of America, Class of Minister-Counselor:

Nominee State
Robert L. Adams Texas
Brian C. Aggeler District of Columbia
Tanya Cecelia Anderson District of Columbia
Michael Adam Barkin Florida
Stanley H. Bennett Minnesota
Randy William Berry Colorado
Timothy A. Betts District of Columbia
Virginia Meade Blaser Virginia
Steven Craig Bondy Virginia
Maria Elena Brewer Virginia
Bridget A. Brink Michigan
John Leslie Carwile Virginia
Carmen Margarita Castro Virginia
Craig Lewis Cloud Florida
Theodore Raymond Coley Virginia
Marie Christine Damour Virginia
Nicholas Julian Dean Virginia
Robin D. Diallo Maryland
John Walter Dinkelman Virginia
Michael J. Dodman District of Columbia
Christine Ann Elder Washington
Michelle M. Esperdy Pennsylvania
Nina Maria Fite Virginia
Bradley Alan Freden Arizona
Rebecca Eliza Gonzales District of Columbia
Alyson Lynn Grunder New York
Todd Philip Haskell Florida
Jeffrey J. Hawkins Jr. Maryland
Peter Mark Haymond Virginia
Brian George Heath District of Columbia
Jonathan Henick California
Elizabeth Ann Hopkins District of Columbia
Virginia Idelle Keener Maryland
Kevin J. Kilpatrick Indiana
Douglas A. Koneff Connecticut
Donald William Koran Virginia
Steven Herbert Kraft Virginia
Suzanne I. Lawrence Virginia
Thomas H. Lloyd Virginia
Najib Mahmood Virginia
Jean Elizabeth Manes Florida
Joseph Manso District of Columbia
Jennifer Allyn McIntyre District of Columbia
David Meale Virginia
John S. Moretti Virginia
Katherine Anne Munchmeyer District of Columbia
Michael John Murphy Virginia
Mirembe L. Nantongo Virginia
Susan Butler Niblock Maryland
Francisco Luis Palmieri Connecticut
Charisse Melanie Phillips Florida
Beth L. Poisson Maryland
Lynette Joyce Poulton Virginia
Wayne F. Quillin New York
Joseph N. Rawlings Georgia
Kurt R. Rice Virginia
Joan Marie Richards Virginia
Christopher J. Sandrolini Virginia
Stephen M. Schwartz Maryland
Dorothy Camille Shea District of Columbia
George N. Sibley Virginia
Adnan A. Siddiqi Virginia
Adam H. Sterling Virginia
Stephanie Faye Syptak-Ramnath Virginia
Melinda C. Tabler-Stone Virginia
John Stephen Tavenner Texas
Dean Thompson Maryland
Lisa Annette Vickers California
Samuel R. Watson III Virginia
Eugene Stewart Young Virginia

2016-12-07 PN1908 Foreign Service | Nominations beginning Robert L. Adams, and ending Laura Ann Griesmer, which 181 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on November 29, 2016.

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Senate Confirmations: Promotion List – Career FSOs to Class of Counselor

Posted: 12:22 am ET
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The following-named Career Member of the Foreign Service for promotion into the Senior Foreign Service, as a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service of the United States of America, Class of Counselor, effective February 21, 2016.

Nominee State
Laura Ann Griesmer Washington

2016-12-07 PN1908 Foreign Service | Nominations beginning Robert L. Adams, and ending Laura Ann Griesmer, which 181 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on November 29, 2016.

The following-named Career Members of the Foreign Service for promotion into the Senior Foreign Service, as a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service of the United States of America, Class of Counselor:

Nominee State
Deanna Hanek Abdeen Virginia
Stephen Anderson Montana
Keith Mims Anderton Virginia
Douglas Joseph Apostol California
Constance C. Arvis Virginia
Jennifer L. Bachus Kansas
Doron D. Bard Washington
Nicholas R. Berliner Virginia
Marcia P. Bosshardt Virginia
David Noel Brizzee Idaho
Dana M. Brown California
Robert G. Burgess District of Columbia
Carol-Anne Chang Virginia
Angela Colyvas-Mcginnis Pennsylvania
Robert E. Copley Colorado
Chad Parker Cummins California
James R. Dayringer Montana
John C. Dockery Texas
Joel Ehrendreich New York
Jewell Elizabeth Evans District of Columbia
Alan E. Eyre Maryland
Eric A. Fichte Washington
Troy Damian Fitrell Virginia
Richard Harris Glenn Virginia
Matthew Eugene Goshko District of Columbia
Ramond F. Greene III District of Columbia
Theresa Grencik Maryland
Anne E. Grimes Virginia
Edward G. Grulich Virginia
Margaret Hawthorne District of Columbia
John Hennessey-Niland Virginia
Christina Maria Huth Higgins Virginia
Melanie Harris Higgins Florida
Lisa S. Kenna Maryland
Jonathan Stuart Kessler Virginia
Cynthia A. Kierscht Minnesota
Michael F. Kleine District of Columbia
Christopher M. Krafft Virginia
Helen Grace LaFave Virginia
Adam Duane Lamoreaux Oregon
Gregory F. Lawless Virginia
Phillip Linderman Virginia
Charles Luoma-Overstreet Virginia
Michael Macy Florida
Jerrold L. Mallory California
Bettina A. Malone Virginia
Ann Barrows McConnell California
Meredith Clare McEvoy Virginia
Richard Mei Jr. Kentucky
Alan D. Meltzer Virginia
Jane S. W. Messenger Maryland
Joaquin F. Monserrate Puerto Rico
Mitchell R. Moss Virginia
Phillip R. Nelson Montana
Elisha Nyman Maryland
Gary Glenn Oba Arkansas
Martha E. Patterson Texas
Roy Albert Perrin Virginia
David D. Potter Virginia
Virginia Sher Ramadan Virginia
Walter Scott Reid Virginia
Jeffrey James Robertson California
Hugo F. Rodriguez Jr. District of Columbia
Russell A. Schiebel Texas
Jonathan A. Schools Texas
Micaela A. Schweitzer-Bluhm Virginia
Mark Wayne Seibel North Carolina
Jonathan L. Shrier New York
Susan Marie Shultz District of Columbia
Eugenia M. Sidereas District of Columbia
David W. Simons Virginia
Jefferson D. Smith Texas
Matthew D. Smith New York
Willard Tenney Smith Virginia
Linda S. Specht Virginia
Gavin A. Sundwall North Carolina
Rebecca T. Brown Thompson Virginia
Scott Brian Ticknor Virginia
Alan R. Tousignant Virginia
Pamela M. Tremont Virginia
Stewart D. Tuttle Jr. California
Heather Catherine Variava Virginia
Amy Hart Vrampas District of Columbia
JoAnne Wagner Virginia
Susan M. Walsh Rhode Island
Eva Anne Weigold Schultz Virginia
Edward Anthony White Florida
Aleisha Woodward Utah

2016-12-07 PN1908 Foreign Service

The following-named Career Members of the Foreign Service for promotion into the Senior Foreign Service, as a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, and a Consular Officer and a Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America:

Nominee State
Wendy A. Bashnan South Carolina
John C. Brewer Alabama
Julie S. Cabus Virginia
Cornell Chasten North Carolina
Natalie Cropper South Carolina
Jaime Esquivel Virginia
Yuri P. Fedorenko Michigan
Donald E. Gonneville Jr. Virginia
Marcia K. Henke Alabama
Paul R. Houston Virginia
Joshua D. McDavid Washington
George M. Navadel District of Columbia
Michael Britton Phillips Maryland
Larry D. Roberts Jr. Virginia
Christopher R. Rooks Virginia
Behzad Shahbazian Maryland
Hartaje K. Thiara District of Columbia
Jeffrey A. Thomas Virginia
Tracy Jo Thomas Virginia
Jennifer S. Tseng Colorado
Thomas R. Vandenbrink Virginia
Judith Vardy Florida

2016-12-07 PN1908 Foreign Service

 

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FS Promotion Self-Certification: Assigning Responsibility For Ensuring the Accuracy of Personnel Documents?

Posted: 3:20 am EDT
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Last week, we posted a Burn Bag submission about ALDAC 16 State 27420 sent on Mar 15, 2016 on Foreign Service Promotion Eligibility Self-Certification and its alleged potential impact to future grievance (see Burn Bag: Foreign Service Promotion Eligibility Self-Certification and Potential Grievance). This self-certification is not/not related to the self-certification required by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

We’ve emailed Barbara Stephenson who was elected last year as AFSA president to inquire about this  but received no response.  We’ve also emailed Angie Bryan who was elected AFSA VP but only received an out of office response that she is on an extensive leave and is only at the office part-time.   This might be the fourth or fifth time we have requested information from these elected representatives and so far, we have only managed to get one courteous auto response from one professional machine.

So we had to find some other insider who could help us understand what’s going on here. Our source who is familiar with the matter but is speaking on background explained to us that the Bureau of Human Resources (State/HR) has been trying for sometime to  “make people aware of the actual requirements for promotion” and to “get them to take it seriously.” Apparently — and we didn’t know this — employees have theoretically been responsible for ensuring the accuracy of their personnel documents since at least 1974 (when the Privacy Act gave them the right to question that accuracy).

In any case, employees are reportedly required to certify that they have 1) completed the Leadership and Management Training requirement for their current grade; 2) reviewed the Career Development Program (CDP) appropriate for skill and grade; 3) reviewed their performance folder in their eOPF to ensure that all EERs (including military evaluations, if applicable), training reports, and awards (including approved awards for those who served on Active Military Duty) are included and any discipline documents scheduled for removal have been properly removed; 4) verified the accuracy of their information in their Employee Profile or correct the information  if incorrect; and 5) not been on Leave Without Pay (LWOP) for more than 8 months during the rating period.

We specifically asked about a potential future grievance and here is our source’s personal view:

It would certainly be reasonable to assume  that if you certified on the questionnaire that you had reviewed your file for accuracy and then later grieved claiming that your file were inaccurate, your self-certification might be evidence against you. On the other hand, I would also assume that if you demonstrated that you had tried to fix the error (e.g written to someone or used the online tool to open a help-desk ticket, and could demonstrate that it had not been corrected, that would be considered as well. The Department knows that it sometimes takes a while to fix things, and it must apply a reasonable person standard to the facts – e.g. if you had a current screen shot showing that the PAR [Performance Accountability Report] remained inaccurate, that would be pretty hard to ignore.
[…]
The situation would be harder if you had done nothing to correct the inaccuracy. The burden of proof in this type of grievance is always on the grievant to show that the Department, not the grievant, acted improperly. If the employee certified that he/she had reviewed his PAR and could not demonstrate having done something to correct an error, then clearly that burden of proof would be harder to meet. The Department could argue that the employee should have tried to fix it, and didn’t, ergo, the Department is not to blame.  Likewise if the employee never applied for required training, or never even bid on a position that would meet a CDP requirement.

The explanation seems reasonable to us but we can understand why this would also be a cause for concern for others. We appreciate the Foggy Bottom Nightingale for responding to our questions.  This is for information only and we urge employees to contact their elected representatives at AFSA if they have concerns about the self-certification requirements.  Also, if the Bureau of Human Resources (State/HR) is indeed trying to get employees to “buy-in” to the self-certification requirements, we expect that State/HR or DGHR would have staffers available to answer questions and address concerns from employees.

 

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