How @StateDept Handles Domestic Violence Overseas: One Example and Some Questions

 

In the many years that we’ve watched the State Department, or asked questions about assaults, harassment, or domestic violence, we seldom see a public accounting of how the agency handles these cases, particularly overseas.  State had such a case in 2018. And we’re only seeing it now because the case landed in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  The EEOC case came from a complainant who was previously assigned to an overseas post in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA).
On November 7, 2018, Complainant filed an EEO complaint alleging that the Agency [State Department] subjected him to discrimination and a hostile work environment/harassment on the basis of sex (male), status as a parent, and in retaliation for “whistleblower activity”. The EEOC notes that “With respect to Complainant’s allegations on appeal of violations of the U.S. Constitution, whistleblower protection laws, criminal laws, and tortious laws not addressed by EEO laws, these laws are not within the purview of the EEO complaint process.”.
The State Department concluded that Complainant failed to prove that the Agency subjected him to discrimination as alleged. On March 13, 2020, the EEOC issued a decision which affirmed the Agency’s final decision. Excerpt from Appeal No. 2019005790:
The Agency accepted the complaint as to the alleged basis of sex and conducted an investigation, which produced the following pertinent facts:
Complainant was assigned to the Agency’s facility [/], accompanied by his spouse (“Spouse”) (female) and children. He and his family resided in U.S. government-supplied housing.
On September 21, 2018, Spouse reported an incident of domestic violence to the Deputy Regional Security Officer (Deputy RSO), alleging Complainant assaulted her. The alleged assault occurred on September 9, 2018, while they were on vacation in Poland. Deputy RSO attested that, based on Spouse’s report, it was reasonable to believe that domestic violence had occurred, and he reported the situation to the front office and the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), as required by Agency policy.
The Agency’s Family Advisory Team (FAT) was advised of Spouse’s report of domestic violence and they recommended that, in the best interest of the family, Complainant and Spouse be separated for a cooling down period. One factor in the decision was Spouse’s comment that she was afraid of Complainant’s finding out that she made the report. Members of the FAT recommended the separation out of concern for further violence, without a determination as to the veracity of Spouse’s allegations, until a decision could be made as to the next steps. The Deputy Chief of Mission instructed that Complainant be removed from the residence, pending further deliberations by the FAT.
On September 21, 2018, Deputy RSO and two other Agency employees went to the residence Complainant shared with his Spouse and their children and informed Complaint that he was being relocated to a hotel. Complainant and Spouse were instructed not to contact each other until a decision was made about the alleged domestic violence incident. Complainant cooperated and was escorted to a hotel.
On September 25, 2018, Complainant reported to Deputy RSO that Spouse was the aggressor in the domestic violence incident. Deputy RSO instructed Complainant to communicate with OSI, as they had jurisdiction.
In the instant complaint, Complainant alleged sex was a factor because he was required to leave the residence, while Spouse remained in the home with their children.
On September 26, 2018, Complainant met with a Human Resources Officer (HRO) and Agency security personnel and was informed that he must immediately leave the post and return to the United States. He was given the choice of voluntary or involuntary curtailment. He was informed that the issues facing his family could not be addressed locally and resources were not available to manage his family situation. Complainant agreed to a voluntary curtailment because the official reason would be classified as personal and there would be no discipline. He also attested that he selected voluntary curtailment because, even though he was the victim of Spouse’s assault, he did not believe he would have any support at the post.
HRO explained that when there is a conflict between two members of a household and one or more of the individuals are direct hires, the Agency policy is to curtail the direct hire. She further explained that this approach is preferred as there is an unwillingness to involve the local police in a potential domestic violence situation. She explained that the post cannot adjudicate claims and make a determination, as that authority rests with OSI. She explained that the post has no authority to require a family member of a direct hire to leave the country and the only viable option is to require the direct hire to curtail, which then will require the spouse or other family member to vacate the government-supplied housing.
The Deputy Chief of Mission attested that she made the decision to curtail Complainant, as this was the third occasion of serious behavioral incidents involving Complainant since he arrived, less than a year ago and, based on the advice from FAT, she instructed that he be given a choice of voluntary or involuntary.
On September 28, 2018, Complainant returned to the United States. Spouse and their children remained behind to pack their belongings and arrived in the United States on October 17, 2018.
Upon his arrival in the United States, Complainant was informed by Diplomatic Security that an update for approval of his security clearance had been initiated “for cause.” Complainant’s security clearance was not scheduled to expire until June 2021. Complainant alleged that the review of his security clearance was initiated by the post to support their decision to remove him from [post].
The Office Director of DS/SI/PSS explained that he was, in part, responsible for the investigation and adjudication of security clearances for the Department and Complainant was subject to an “out of cycle” investigation regarding his security clearance because of the reports received from a Diplomatic Security investigation alleging potential misconduct. He explained that the investigation was “for cause,” non-routine, and pursuant to regulations.
With respect to the alleged harassment, Complainant attested that, on November 7, 2018, the Agency notified him that he was the subject of an administrative inquiry into allegations that he was a harasser.
He explained that he learned that, during a social setting, he made a comment about Spouse that might have been considered a distasteful joke but did not rise to the level of harassment. He also alleged that, during a meeting with the American Foreign Service Association and Human Resources, a Human Resources representative asked him when he anticipated retiring.
[…]
The Agency explained that, following Spouse’s report of domestic violence, the Agency felt it in the best interest of the family that Complainant and Spouse be separated for a cooling down period, pending a determination as to what steps were next. The Agency further explained that there is an unwillingness to involve local authorities in such matters and it lacks the authority to adjudicate such matters. The Agency explained that in such situations involving a direct hire employee and an accompanying spouse, it is the Agency’s policy to curtail the direct hire, which would then cause the spouse and family to be required to vacate the government-supplied housing. The Agency also explained that Complainant was subject to an “out of cycle” investigation regarding his security clearance because of the reports of alleged potential misconduct. We note that, although Complainant and Spouse disagree as to who initiated the domestic violence, Complainant does not deny that the domestic violence occurred. We find the Agency’s actions of separating the spouses, sending the employee back to the United States, and subjecting him to another security investigation to be reasonable under these circumstances. Therefore, although Complainant has alleged discrimination, he has not established by a preponderance of the evidence, that the legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons articulated by the Agency were a pretext for unlawful discrimination or motivated by some unlawful discriminatory animus with respect to any of these claims.
The links to the related regs are below. In this case, State told the EEOC that “there is an unwillingness to involve local authorities in such matters and it lacks the authority to adjudicate such matters.” And yet, 3 FAM 1815.2 says:

d. If the initial report is substantiated, action may include one or more of the following: (1)  Post may call upon local authorities or resources in certain cases; […] (5)  Post may be asked to call upon shelter and child protection resources or find alternative shelter within the post community for the victim and any children.

Seriously though, why are these options decorating the FAM if they are never real options? In certain cases? Which cases would there be a willingness for post to call upon local authorities to settle a domestic violence case?
Perhaps the most striking thing here — well, a couple of things. 1) “Complainant agreed to a voluntary curtailment because the official reason would be classified as personal and there would be no discipline”; and 2) the Agency’s point that “the only viable option is to require the direct hire to curtail, which then will require the spouse or other family member to vacate the government-supplied housing.”
And then what?
The spouse and children returns to the United States. To where actually? To get back with the spouse? To a halfway house? To a homeless shelter? What actually happens to the family upon return to the United States following a report of domestic violence overseas? Folks do not always have houses in the DC area, spouses may be foreign born with no families in the DC area. In most cases, the household effects and those on storage are also under the employee’s name only (unless the spouse made prior arrangements).
So what happens next? Could ‘what happens next’ be one of the main reasons why folks do not report these cases?  

Related items:
3 FAM 1810 FAMILY ADVOCACY PROGRAM (CHILD ABUSE, CHILD NEGLECT, AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE)
3 FAM 1815  DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Snapshot: 3 FAM 1217 Participation of Spouse (in Representational, Charitable, or Social Activities)

 

“Unless working as an employee or contractor, participation of a spouse in the work of a post is a voluntary act of a private person, not a legal obligation which can be imposed by any Foreign Service officer (FSO) or spouse. Nonparticipation of a spouse in representational, charitable, or social activities in no way reflects on the employees effectiveness on the job.”

Cite: 3 FAM 1217
(CT:PER-924;   09-21-2018)
(Uniform State/USAID/USAGM/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA)
(Applies to Foreign Service Employees Only)

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@StateDept Launches Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC)

Posted: 12:04 am ET
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The U.S. Department of State recently launched the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps (FSFRC) “to more quickly mobilize family members to fill available positions in missions overseas.”  

The FSFRC is a program for family members seeking inside the mission employment opportunities. It will become the exclusive hiring program for Appointment Eligible Family Members (AEFM) into Family Member Appointments (FMA). Starting in 2016, eligible AEFMs will be able to apply for membership in the FSFRC, based on their current employment situation. The FAQ says that “After open enrollment commences, which we estimate to be 18 to 24 months from now, the Department will announce the initiation of a new hiring preference as outlined in 16 STATE 49074, paragraph 21.”

The FSFRC is reportedly designed for the majority of family members working in US missions overseas; unfortunately but it will not/not be open to all family members.  An individual who meets all of the following criteria is eligible to apply to join the FSFRC:

(1)  Is a U.S. citizen and

(2)  Is the spouse or domestic partner (as defined in 3 FAM 1610) of a sponsoring employee (i.e., a direct-hire Foreign Service, Civil Service, or uniformed service member) and;

(3) Is either:

(a) listed on the travel orders of a sponsoring employee for a post abroad at a U.S. mission under Chief of Mission authority, or at an office of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), or
(b) listed on an approved Form OF-126, Foreign Service Residence and Dependency Report (or agency equivalent), of a sponsoring employee and resides at the sponsoring employee’s post of assignment abroad, or, as appropriate, an office of the AIT.

(4) Does not receive a U.S. Government retirement annuity or pension from a career in the U.S. Foreign Service or Civil Service; and

(5) Is not a Foreign Service Officer in Leave Without Pay (LWOP) status.

NOTE 1: U.S. citizen spouses/domestic partners of a sponsoring employee who are on approved Voluntary Separate Maintenance Allowance (VSMA) or Involuntary Separate Maintenance Allowance (ISMA) and are temporarily residing apart from the sponsoring employee are also eligible to apply to join the FSFRC in non-paid status. However, they may only begin working in a local assignment when they resume residing with the sponsoring employee.

The State Department estimates that in excess of 5,000 family members are currently eligible to apply to join the Reserve Corps.

Immediate enrollment of everyone who is currently eligible is not possible. Therefore, beginning in 2016, we will start to enroll eligible family members in waves (exact dates TBD) based upon their planned departure date from their current Family Member Appointment (FMA) or TEMP Appointment overseas or based upon the Not To Exceed (NTE) date for family members currently in INWS status.

It does not look like this new program would have an impact on bureau-funded positions or post-funded jobs. It remains to be seen if the FSFRC will expand the job availability for Foreign Service spouses and if it resolves the issue of portability of security clearances for spouses.

For more details, please read the documents below.

Important Documents

 

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Related posts:

Burn Bag: The situation regarding spousal employment … probably the most honest response yet

Posted: 1:40 pm EDT
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“Yes, we devote more and better lip service to the problem every year.”  

ll1ucy_reaction gifs

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— an unnamed regional bureau wag’s response when asked if the situation regarding spousal employment had improved over the years.

 

 

Leadership and Management Principles for State Department Employees

Domani Spero
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Last week, the Office of Inspector General told us that the State Department has already adopted some of the OIG’s major recommendations, such as updating the Foreign Affairs Manual to address leadership (see Don’t Give Up On Us Baby: State Dept OIG Writes Back on Leadership and Management). So we went and look it up. Updated in January 2014, 3 FAM 1214 (pdf) now includes the Leadership and Management Principles for Department Employees. It covers the State/USAID/BBG/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA and applies to Civil Service and Foreign Service Employees. Excerpt from the relevant section:

a. The Department relies on all employees to represent the U.S. Government in the course of carrying out its mission. The Foreign Service Core Precepts and the Office of Personnel Management’s Executive Core Qualifications, in addition to existing Leadership and Management Tenets, such as those established by Consular Affairs, Diplomatic Security, Economic and Business Affairs, and Public Diplomacy, set clear expectations for their employees. Additionally, the Department as an institution embraces an overarching set of Leadership Principles. The established Department-wide Leadership Principles apply to and can be used by anyone, regardless of rank or employment status (e.g. Civil or Foreign Service, Locally Employed Staff, or contractors). 

b. Supervisors and managers have a unique opportunity and responsibility to lead by example and foster the highest attainable degree of employee morale and productivity. However, you do not need to be a manager to be the leader. 

The following principles reflects the values the Department believes are important for all employees to cultivate: 

(1) Model Integrity – Hold yourself and others to the highest standards of conduct, performance, and ethics, especially when faced with difficult situations. Act in the interest of and protect the welfare of your team and organization. Generously share credit for the accomplishments of the organization. Take responsibility for yourself, your resources, your decisions, and your action;

(2) Plan Strategically – Develop and promote attainable, shared short and long term goals with stakeholders for your project, program, team, or organization. Provide a clear focus, establish expectations, give direction, and monitor results. Seek consensus and unified effort by anticipating, preventing, and discouraging counter-productive confrontation; 

(3) Be Decisive and Take Responsibility – Provide clear and concise guidance, training, and support, and make effective use of resources. Grant employees ownership over their work. Take responsibility when mistakes are made and treat them as an opportunity to learn. Formally and informally recognize high quality performance; 

(4) Communicate – Express yourself clearly and effectively. Be approachable and listen actively. Offer and solicit constructive feedback from others. Be cognizant of the morale and attitude of your team. Anticipate varying points of view by soliciting input; 

(5) Learn and Innovate Constantly – Strive for personal and professional improvement. Display humility by acknowledging shortcomings and working continuously to improve your own skills and substantive knowledge. Foster an environment where fresh perspectives are encouraged and new ideas thrive. Promote a culture of creativity and exploration;

(6) Be Self-Aware – Be open, sensitive to others, and value diversity. Be tuned in to the overall attitude and morale of the team and be proactive about understanding and soliciting varying points of view; 

(7) Collaborate – Establish constructive working relationships with all mission elements to further goals. Share best practices, quality procedures, and innovative ideas to eliminate redundancies and reduce costs. Create a sense of pride and mutual support through openness; 

(8) Value and Develop People – Empower others by encouraging personal and professional development through mentoring, coaching and other opportunities. Commit to developing the next generation. Cultivate talent to maximize strengths and mitigate mission-critical weaknesses; 

(9) Manage Conflict – Encourage an atmosphere of open dialogue and trust. Embrace healthy competition and ideas. Anticipate, prevent, and discourage counter-productive confrontation. Follow courageously by dissenting respectfully when appropriate; and

(10) Foster Resilience – Embrace new challenges and learn from them. Persist in the face of adversity. Take calculated risks, manage pressure, be flexible and acknowledge failures. Show empathy, strength, and encouragement to others in difficult times;

And here is a detail appended to this section of the Foreign Affairs Manual on spouses; keep this handy should some senior spouse try to twist your arms to do something you’d rather not be doing:

3 FAM 1217 Participation of Spouse
(CT:PER-571; 09-27-2005) (Uniform State/USAID/BBG/Commerce/Foreign Service Corps-USDA) (Applies to Foreign Service Employees Only) 

Unless working as an employee or contractor, participation of a spouse in the work of a post is a voluntary act of a private person, not a legal obligation which can be imposed by any Foreign Service officer (FSO) or spouse. Nonparticipation of a spouse in representational, charitable, or social activities in no way reflects on the employee’s effectiveness on the job.

As always, we’d like to know how this works in real life.

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