US Embassy Madagascar: A Post Far From Heaven With a $700K Imaginary American Center

Posted: 1:02 am EDT
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Last week, State/OIG released its inspection report of the U.S. Embassy Antananarivo in Madagascar. It’s one of those report that you read and you want to pull your hair in frustration. By the time the OIG came for a visit, there’s a new chargé d’affaires, a new staff rotated in and a new team is tasked with correcting the mess left by the previous officials assigned to post.  The previous CDA identified fuel as a management control deficiency but did not see the rest of the good stuff.  The OIG report notes that other vulnerabilities discussed in the report “would have been apparent if embassy leadership had conducted a comprehensive, office-by-office review of all activities with management control implications.”

The report highlights non-use of record email to effectively track important exchanges on policy and programs, use of social media to reach a mainly urban, youthful, and elite audience where only 2 percent of the Madagascar population has access to the Internet, and Meritorious Honor Awards without proper documentation. Beyond the more problematic public affairs grants and purchases discussed below, post also spent more than $10,000 on computer equipment for use in Comoros, even if — get this —  there is no U.S. Government office space in Comoros in which to place that equipment.

And here’s one that’s going to make you unfriend this fella on Facebook: “The previous chargé d’affaires departed the embassy without completing six interim evaluation reports for American employees he supervised, as required for periods of 120 days or more under 3 FAM 2813.4. He did not respond to email reminders from the embassy human resources office and the Bureau of African Affairs. ” 

A quick look at US Embassy Antananarivo:

The mission has a total staff of 296, with 57 U.S. direct-hire positions. In April 2010, the embassy occupied a new embassy compound (site acquisition was $3.6 million, and construction was $102.3 million), consisting of a chancery, a warehouse/shops facility, a Marine security guard quarters, and a swimming pool. Embassy housing consists of 38 leased and 2 government-owned residences, 1 of which is the Ambassador’s residence.

The good news: A recently arrived chargé d’affaires

Stephen Anderson arrived in August 2014, about two months before the OIG inspection.  The OIG inspectors write:

The recently arrived chargé d’affaires has made a good start in leading the embassy during a period of profound change in the political situation in Madagascar and the subsequent restart of the bilateral relationship between Madagascar and the United States. … The chargé d’affaires, working with a collegial country team, has also demonstrated interpersonal engagement within the embassy…..The chargé d’affaires has also demonstrated his commitment to management controls within the embassy. He directed that each Department section conduct a self-assessment of its management deficiencies. At the time of the inspection, the mission had completed corrective action on 73 of the 122 action items identified and was working to close the others.

Some other good news:

1) The information management office is led by a seasoned information management officer. The section received good scores on ICASS customer surveys and OIG questionnaires, as well as A+ ratings from the Department’s network and systems monitoring software. 2) Community liaison office operations received high marks, exceeding both regional and worldwide scores in the 2014 ICASS customer satisfaction survey.  3) OIG surveys noted that parents are satisfied with the quality of education; and 4) The health unit’s ICASS customer satisfaction scores are above worldwide averages.

Now for that American Center boondoggle: 

According to State/OIG, the American Center was funded with embassy public affairs funds (approximately $116,328) and by two large allotments provided in June 2012 by the Office of American Spaces in the Bureau of International Information Programs (totaling $559,062).  The OIG report is careful to point out that though current staff members will play a key role in identifying a path forward on this project, they are not responsible for the existing situation.  But all those responsible and accountable for this project are left unnamed in the OIG report presumably because they are no longer at post and have been successfully recycled to other posts. And since IERs (inspector’s evaluation reports) are no longer in season, none of the details from this report will ever make it anywhere near a promotion board.

A former embassy public affairs officer in 2011 proposed an American Center for the capital on the basis of a public-private partnership model. The concept initially envisioned a partnership of the English Teaching Program (ETP), a restaurant, Voice of America, a telecommunications company, and a publisher of a free entertainment monthly. A memorandum of understanding was drafted and signed by some of the prospective partners in June 2013 after lengthy delays. However, two prospective partners failed to sign on and a final partnership memorandum never entered into force.
[…]
Disregard of policies and procedures concerning grants and cooperative agreements have put at risk the embassy’s approximately $700,000 project to establish an American Center in Antananarivo. The OIG team noted that the decisions and actions that led to the American Center problems predate the arrival of the employees presently assigned to the embassy.
[…]
The embassy initiated a massive public relations campaign and announced the start of construction at a press conference in April 2012 attended by the former chargé d’affaires and the deputy coordinator of the Bureau of International Information Programs.

Image via US Embassy Antananarivo/FB, April 2012

Image via US Embassy Antananarivo/FB, April 2012

We were able to locate the embassy announcement of the new American Center from April 2012.

Welcome to the new American Center.  In a few months time this space will be transformed into the most modern and technologically advanced space that Madagascar has ever seen.  It will be a place to learn, to explore, and to connect.   It will not be your traditional cultural center.  This initiative is an innovative collaboration between the American Embassy, our private sector partners, and the English Teaching Program.   It is this ambitious vision for a cultural center based entirely on the model of a public-private partnership that has brought the person in charge of American centers worldwide for the State Department to Madagascar.  I would like to acknowledge Michelle Logsdon, the Deputy Coordinator for International Information Programs who has joined us today to learn more about this important initiative.
[…]
As you will see in the presentations that each partner will be delivering shortly, they have not only embraced the potential of this center, they have developed it in ways we would have never dreamed possible.  VIMA plans to put on some of the most spectacular shows Antananarivo will have ever seen.  Orange and Teknet will make the latest technology accessible to a new generation of Malagasy, while the Cookie Shop will create a new environment for learning, exchanging, and of course some great brownies.
[…]
We will organize trainings, cultural programs, and conferences with our partners that connect them and their clients to individuals, information, and opportunities from around the globe.  We will also have a team dedicated to finding the latest information, technology, and developments for the Center.  While many of the services at the Center will be fee-based, just like at an internet café or a theatre, the Embassy will ensure that there will be more resources and events than ever that are available to the public for free. 

This is going to be a fee-based center in a country where the per capita gross domestic product is only $1,000 (2013 est.), with 92 percent of the population living on less than $2 a day. Who’s going to be the audience for these programs? The same urban, youthful, and elite audience that belongs to the  2 percent of the Madagascar population with access to the Internet?


I Dreamed a Dream … a Cookie Shop and Some Great Brownies

The OIG team inspected Embassy Antananarivo from October 7–29, 2014.  At that time, the team visited the proposed American Center site in a shopping mall and observed the following:

[A]fter almost 2 years of construction, the site, covering 1,200 square meters (or 12,917 square feet), was a shell. Rooms were laid out, but lighting, flooring, doors, and other infrastructure were absent. A small bathroom shared with the rest of the mall was located at some distance from the site on the other side of the mall. Other problems included the lack of storage space, ceilings below standard height on the mezzanine level, and inadequate provision for air conditioning. On a weekday afternoon, some minor construction work was underway. However, no agreement had been reached on a final design or construction plan, including where the U.S. Government portion of the facility might be located.

Storage in seven 40-ft container for nearly two years?

As the American Center is not ready for occupancy, much of the furniture and equipment ordered for it has been stored in seven 40-foot containers located in the embassy parking lot, some of it for nearly 2 years. The OIG team spot-checked the contents of the containers and did not observe water or insect damage.

The embassy did not have a plan (which details needed resources, deadlines, partners, and costs) that could lead to a decision whether to close or salvage this project. Without such a plan, the embassy runs the risk of repeating past mistakes and failing to make the best use of funds already expended.

No Bona Fide Need for Much of Equipment Procured for American Center

According to information the embassy provided the OIG team, the embassy has expended approximately $400,000 to date on furniture and equipment for the American Center project. However, the embassy failed to establish a bona fide need for many of these procurements. This failure—and the subsequent misuse of some of the furniture and equipment—constitutes a management control weakness.

A notable example of a questionable procurement is a $47,938 telescopic theater-style seating system, which the embassy purchased even though the prevailing wage of workers who could set up and remove chairs is $10 a day. The shipping cost for this item alone was estimated at $19,175.

Other examples of questionable procurements abound and include the following (costs are rounded and do not include shipping):

  • Twenty-five 46-inch televisions ($21,500) and six 70-inch televisions ($24,600).
  • A motorized theater curtain system ($7,150).
  • Twenty iMacs ($22,935), 16 HP TouchSmarts ($14,247), 20 Wii stations ($4,230), 20 Apple TVs ($1,920), and 10 iPods ($1,790).
  • Fifty home theater chairs ($26,600).
  • A replica of the Seattle Space Needle, painted wall mural, and totem pole ($4,810).
  • Decorations, including more than a dozen fish and turtle sculptures ($5,400).


Whatsadoing with a $5,500 coffee grinder/espresso maker?

The OIG report says that records the team reviewed indicate that the public affairs section recommended specific vendors to the procurement unit, most often identified through Amazon.com. Looks like no one bothered to make a distinction between government shopping and personal shopping, and folks were in a hurry to spend end-of fiscal year funds:

No documentation in the procurement files shows that procurements greater than $3,000 were properly competed, as required. A number of the items ordered were not part of the original equipment lists submitted in support of the request for funds. For example, the original request did not include any food preparation equipment, yet the embassy purchased items such as a wine cooler, a $650 residential blender, grills, a $5,500 coffee grinder and commercial espresso maker, refrigerators, and other kitchen items.

Property Control Does Not Comply with Regulations, No Kidding

The amazing thing here is there is no discussion why USG properties were lent to two private businesses without documentation.  Who signed them out? Who approved these loans?  What did the USG get for this sweet arrangement? Did those companies just come by the embassy, pick up the USG properties and the embassy guards just waved “bye, come back soon?”

As the American Center was (and still is) not ready for occupancy, much of the furniture and equipment has been stored in seven 40-foot containers located in the embassy parking lot, some of it for nearly 2 years.

Other furniture and equipment was loaned to two private businesses for their use without any documentation. The embassy loaned at least $42,000 of computers and office equipment to one telecommunications firm alone. These items included 12 iPads, 16 iMacs, and 2 70-inch and 3 46-inch televisions. The embassy purchased a $6,700 eBoard from this company and then lent the item back to it. The embassy told the OIG team that these items were retrieved from the firm in February 2014 after a year or so in use, though the lack of documentation makes the timing unclear. The other firm, a restaurant chain, was lent at least $5,000 worth of U.S. Government property. The embassy warehouse unit retrieved these items, including a refrigerator installed in the restaurant owner’s private residence, on September 15, 2014—3 weeks prior to the OIG team’s arrival. These deficiencies were not, but should have been, included in the 2014 chief of mission statement of assurance signed by the previous chargé d’affaires on August 11, 2014.


Who Bears Responsibility For This Project, Anyways?

Short answer from OIG: Bureau of African Affairs, Bureau of International Information Programs, and Embassy Bear Responsibility. Here is the longer answer:

The lack of accountability for the American Center project extends beyond the embassy because additional management controls exist for projects of this scale. The Bureau of International Information Programs and its regional information resources office in Nairobi approved two large American Spaces funding requests despite warning signs. These included the requests’ hyperbolic language (“the possibilities are endless”) and the questionable suitability of such a large, public-private project in a very poor country, especially when the project would be managed by a public affairs officer and section lacking the necessary business and accounting acumen and grants management experience. The Bureau of African Affairs approved the project despite the fact that it had not received the necessary project details from the embassy and despite the many flaws in the grants documents that they did receive. The embassy did not caution the Department that the project’s prospective partners had never cooperated in such a joint venture, had no understanding of its public purpose, and had no record of such cooperation with the embassy in the past. The Department should have drawn on its technical and regional expertise and understanding of public-private partnerships to identify flaws in the initial plan before it was approved and funds were allotted.

Note that the new Ambassador to Madagascar Robert Yamate was only confirmed by the Senate in November 2014, and did not get to post until December 2014, five months after his nomination was announced and two months after this OIG inspection.  The previous ambassador appointed to Madagascar was R. Niels Marquardt who departed post in June 2010.

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Related item:

ISP-I-15-20A Inspection of Embassy Antananarivo, Madagascar | May 15, 2015  

 

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Foreign Service Grievance Board Annual Report 2014 — Noteworthy Cases

Posted: 1:30  am EDT
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The Foreign Service Grievance Board recently released its 2014 annual report:

A primary goal of the Board continuing during this past year (and in prior years) has been to improve its timeliness in terms of issuing its orders and decisions. The Board is acutely aware of the short timeframes that impact the careers of Foreign Service employees, and especially the schedules of various agency-appointed boards that grant tenure, decide on promotions, rank (and “low rank”) employees, and make other career-defining personnel decisions. While the Board does not fully control the entire grievance appeal process, e.g., the period during which the parties engage in sometimes lengthy discovery or file time- consuming motions, it has put in place procedures to expedite where possible those actions it does control.
[…]
The three-member panels selected to decide grievance appeals continued to work effectively during the year, producing several orders and decisions with significant issues of first impression or complexity. Social media has had an impact on some of the Board’s grievance appeals, and is likely to expand as a growing presence in both professional and personal interactions among Foreign Service employees. The increased exposure of what may have been considered private communications in the past has produced challenging questions regarding standards for personal and professional conduct of Foreign Service personnel, including the issue of what is a reasonable expectation of privacy; similarly, rapid changes in technology, in particular the growth of digitally based communications and cyber tools such as cloud computing, have altered methods of information storage, access and security that undoubtedly affect Foreign Service operations. These developments, along with rapidly evolving social and demographic changes, both within the Foreign Service and the society at large, are likely to influence to some degree future grievance disputes. A major challenge for the Board is to maintain its level of institutional and technological awareness to keep pace with the dynamic environment in which future dispute resolution will be necessary.

See the stats here:  Snapshot: Foreign Service Grievance Board Annual Report 2014 – Statistics

According to the 2014  report, the largest number of grievance appeals by office were those filed by employees of the Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (31% of the total). The Board is now seeing cases on disability, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or other medical condition that affected the employee performance or conduct that resulted in a separation recommendation.  The average time for disposition of a case, from time of filing to Board decision, withdrawal, or dismissal, was 45 weeks. This is two weeks longer than the average time of disposition in 2013. The Board currently has 19 members, with 12 retired foreign affairs members and 7 legal professionals.

Below is an excerpt from the report:

Fifty-three new cases were filed with the Board in 2014, comparable to the number filed the previous year (54). Over the past six years, the number of new cases has ranged from a high of 74 to a low of 43. Of the 2014 cases, 47 cases were filed by employees of the Department of State (or survivors of State Department employees); five by employees of USAID; and one by AFSA. No cases were filed by employees of the other agencies under the Board’s jurisdiction.
[…]
Timeliness of disciplinary actions, as governed by agency regulations, also continued as an issue of concern to employees. In three new cases filed, the employees alleged that delays ranging from 14 to 36 months violated Department regulations and disadvantaged them. Two cases involving timeliness were decided by the Board this year. In the first case, the Board found that a three-year delay was prejudicial to the employee and dismissed the charges. In the second, a two-year delay was deemed not to be prejudicial, but the charges were dismissed as not proven.

Eight of the new cases filed involved a claim that a disability, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or other medical condition affected the employee performance or conduct that resulted in a separation recommendation. Four involved allegations of alcohol abuse. The largest number of grievance appeals by office were those filed by employees of the Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (31% of the total).

A number of individually noteworthy cases were filed in 2014:

    • A USAID case involved the starting salary of a new hire, whose documentation of his previous salary while self-employed was alleged to be fraudulent. The grievant was one of several USAID new hires who were issued bills of collection for overpayment of salary following an agency audit of the starting salaries of new hires. Regulations for establishing starting salaries primarily took into account standard salary histories, and did not address factors stemming from self-employment or lower salaries/stipends earned while an applicant was earning an advanced degree.
  • The daughter of a State Department employee contested a bill of collection issued by the Department for $311,000 in overpayment of a survivor annuity and denial of a waiver for the overpayment. The grievant was unaware that she needed to notify the Department upon the death of her mother. Survivor annuity payments were deposited into a joint account for several years before the error was discovered.
  • AFSA filed an implementation dispute challenging the Department’s decision to deny payment of Meritorious Service Increases (MSIs) to outstanding employees identified by the selection boards in 2013. AFSA maintained that its agreement to defer such payments during sequestration of the budget in 2013 did not extend to a discretionary decision by the Department to withhold such payments permanently after the funds were available.
  • A former president of AFSA contested the propriety of an email sent out by senior Department staff criticizing her for an op-ed piece she had co- authored with two former ambassadors. The op-ed piece, published in the Washington Post, expressed the authors’ perception that State was inappropriately placing an increasing number of civil service and political appointees in the highest leadership positions. The grievant also challenged the failure of one of the authors of the email to recuse herself from service on the grievant’s promotion board that year.
  • A retired Foreign Service Officer filed a grievance alleging that remedies granted to him pursuant to the first grievance ever filed, in 1972, under authorities preceding the establishment of the Foreign Service Grievance Board, had never been implemented. He is seeking monetary relief.
  • A grievant who in 1998 claimed bias on the basis of sexual orientation and a procedural error, and who appealed the FSGB decisions to both the district court and court of appeals, filed a new grievance claiming that Time-In-Class (TIC) and Time-in-Service (TIS) extensions awarded in that case had never been properly implemented, resulting in his impending separation for expiration of his TIS.

Discipline

The Board resolved 12 appeals from discipline imposed by the Department of State. There were no appeals from disciplinary decisions of other agencies. In discipline cases, the agency has the burden to prove that the charge is factually correct; has a nexus to employment; and that the penalty is appropriate. The appeals covered a range of issues: alcohol and/or weapons-related incidents (five cases); filing false claims for reimbursement; false statements given to explain an absence from work; failure to maintain control of a diplomatic pouch; interfering with an investigation; the appearance of prostitution (two cases); and a security violation. In eight of the cases the charged employee alleged that the penalty was too harsh. In five of the discipline cases the Board affirmed the Department’s decision; in two it found in favor of the charged employee; in one it partially affirmed and partially reversed; and four cases were settled before reaching a decision on the merits. Nine of the cases involved employees of the Office of Diplomatic Security.

In one discipline case and a handful of others, the employees claimed that the incidents were related to the stress of service at hardship posts. As more employees are assigned to posts in countries where violence is endemic, the Board will be sensitive to similar conditions in appeals arising from this issue.

EER/OPF/IER

Eighteen appeals involving inaccuracies, omissions, prejudicial statements, or prejudicial errors in employees’ Official Performance Files that could affect their promotion and/or tenuring competitiveness were decided by the Board. The Board affirmed the agency decision in ten of the cases; reversed in two; and partially affirmed, partially reversed in three cases. Two appeals were settled, and one was withdrawn.

Two of the appeals contested IERs issued by the Office of the Inspector General, one involving an ambassador and the second a public affairs officer. In the first, the Board found that the right to counseling applied equally to ambassadors as to other employees. Although the bar may be higher in what an ambassador is expected to know, the Board found that in this particular case the ambassador had no reason to know of the deficiencies identified in the IER, and, therefore, lack of counseling by her supervisors prior to inclusion of the criticisms in the IER and her OPF was not harmless error. The Board also found that several comments in the IER about another, identifiable employee should not have been included in the ambassador’s OPF. The Board ordered that the IER be removed from the ambassador’s OPF. The second case was settled and withdrawn prior to a decision on the merits.

See The Buck Stops Where? Ambassador Files Grievance Over an OIG Evaluation Report

Assignment

In general, the Board does not have jurisdiction over assignment actions. However, the Board may hear appeals in which the employee alleges a procedural violation of the assignment process. Two such cases were resolved last year. The first case stemmed from the 2012 violence in Benghazi. The employee alleged that he was removed from his position based on ill-founded conclusions by the Benghazi Accountability Review Board, and that he had been made a scapegoat as part of a politically motivated damage control effort. Prior to the conclusion of the appeal process, the grievant retired from the Department. The Board found that most of the remedies he had requested were no longer viable post-retirement, and it therefore drew no conclusions based on the merits. In the second case, the Board also found that the requested remedy, a change in eligibility requirements for long- term training, was outside its authority and dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.

See The Cautionary Tale of Raymond Maxwell: When the Bureaucracy Bites, Who Gets The Blame?

Financial

Eight appeals involving financial claims were resolved by the Board last year, each presenting different, complex issues:

  • In an appeal challenging denial of a medical evacuation allowance, the Department followed a long-established Standard Operating Procedure in denying medical evacuation for a high-risk pregnancy prior to the 24th week of gestation. The employee was directed to seek instead the lower separate maintenance allowance, even though all medical personnel agreed that grievant’s spouse needed to return to the U.S. in the 10th week of pregnancy.  The Board found that the Department’s practice was inconsistent with its own regulations and directed the Department to recalculate grievant’s per diem based on the medical evacuation rate.See High Risk Pregnancy Overseas: State/MED’s SOP Took Precedence Over the FAM? No Shit, Sherlock!
  • Six Security Engineering Officers (SEOs) challenged the Department’s decision to limit hiring of their class to an FP-06 pay level, while hiring preceding classes with similar qualifications up to the FP-04 level. In addition to charging a violation of merit principles, the grievants claimed that there were no jobs available at the lower level, so they were unjustly required to work at a higher pay grade than they were being paid. The case was resolved with respect to four grievants when they withdrew their appeals. The appeal of the other two is pending.
  • A career Civil Service employee was given a Limited Non-career Appointment in the Foreign Service, then granted a conversion to career Foreign Service. While in the U.S. working to satisfy the language requirement for a pending overseas FS assignment, grievant’s position was first designated FP-02, then retroactively downgraded to GS-12. The Department required her to reimburse the overpayment in salary resulting from the initial designation. The Board found that, while the Department’s regulations regarding conversions are unclear, in this case the downgrade without notice was an improper application of the relevant laws and regulation, and the employee was entitled to recover the funds repaid to the Department.
  • The Department denied a cash award to an employee for a suggestion he had made and that it had implemented. The primary basis for denial was that grievant had received a cash award for a similar reason, and thus was not permitted a second cash award for the suggestion. Grievant also claimed that the official who denied the award was the deciding official in a disciplinary action pending against him, and thus should have recused himself. The Board found that the two awards were for different purposes and thus not prohibited by the regulation, and agreed that the deciding official should have recused himself from the award decision. It remanded the case to the Department to reconsider its original decision.
  • A Diplomatic Security agent was required to surrender his law enforcement credentials and was denied law enforcement availability pay (LEAP) when the Secret Service investigated him regarding a collectible coin that he had purchased and sold, which turned out to be counterfeit. The investigation remained pending for a number of years, with no charges brought against the agent. During that time, his LEAP pay remained in abeyance. The Board found that although the Department did not have regulations addressing these circumstances, it had implemented a clear and consistent policy and did not act arbitrarily in denying grievant LEAP pay.
  • A retired criminal investigator with the USAID Inspector General’s Office alleged that the State Department miscalculated his retirement annuity by applying a pay cap imposed by the USAID IG through a 2006 memorandum. The Board found that the Department’s reliance on the memorandum was proper, and denied grievant’s claim to a higher annuity. The grievant has appealed this decision to the D.C. district court.

Judicial Actions Involving Board Rulings

One new case was filed in the District Court for the District of Columbia last year. Gregory Picur, retired from USAID’s Office of Inspector General, appealed the Board’s decision to uphold the Department’s calculation of his retirement annuity. A decision is pending.

Three other cases are pending decisions in federal court:

    • The five plaintiffs in Richard Lubow, et al. v. United States Department of State, et al. (923 F. Supp. 2d 28 (D.D.C. 2013)), retired and active duty Diplomatic Security agents who served in Iraq in 2004, appealed a district court decision granting summary judgment to the Department. The plaintiffs had grieved the Department’s application of a cap on their premium pay during their time in Iraq and its decision not to grant them a waiver of repayment of the amounts they had been paid in excess of that cap. The Board had affirmed the Department’s decision applying the cap and denying the waiver.
      (note: a ruling was issued on this case this past week, we will post separately)
    • In November 2012, Jeremy Yamin petitioned the D.C. district court to review a FSGB order denying in part his request for attorney fees incurred in a grievance appeal.
  • In January 2011, Joan Wadelton appealed a Board decision ordering six new reconstituted selection boards be convened as the remedy for three prior grievances. Ms. Wadelton’s appeal contests the Board’s decision to order a new round of reconstituted boards, rather than direct a promotion, as she had requested. Ms. Wadelton is separately engaged in litigation against the Department concerning compliance with three related FOIA requests she filed seeking certain Department records about her. The Department has completed its production of documents pursuant to those requests and is currently engaged in briefing related to motions for summary judgment. (see  Former FSO Joan Wadelton With Truthout Goes to Court Over FOIA Case)

One of the “other” cases adjudicated by the Board.

[T]he employee had been assigned to a senior job in an international organization for five years by virtue of separation/transfer with reemployment rights. Under that particular arrangement, his OPF was not reviewed for promotion for those years, and he was reemployed by State at the same grade as when he had left. Grievant contested the legality of that policy. The Board found that, although there was confusion within State about the ramifications of different transfer/secondment actions and grievant had not always been given consistent information, the precepts were clear and no remedy was warranted. Grievant has two related cases pending. (see Secondments to international organizations and promotions? Here comes the boo!).

The full report is available here.

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The Buck Stops Where? Ambassador Files Grievance Over an OIG Evaluation Report

— Domani Spero
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The following is a Foreign Service Grievance Board case (all names redacted) where an ambassador filed a grievance over a State/OIG Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER). The Board held that the IER be expunged from the ambassador’s personnel file.

Now, you see why State/OIG stopped doing the Inspector’s Evaluation Reports? We don’t like the fact that OIG no longer issues IERs but we can now understand in real terms why.

This is why. Where does the buck stops?

The President sends a Letter of Instruction to all Chiefs of Mission appointed by the President, and the contents of each letter differs according to whether the COM has a bilateral/country or international organization portfolio. The President’s Letter basically gives a COM full responsibility for the direction, coordination, and supervision of all U.S. Government executive branch employees within the host country or in the relevant Mission to an international organization, except those personnel under the command of a U.S. geographic area military commander or on the staff of an international organization.

We’re shocked it has not been argued yet that ambassadors must first have prior counseling from the President of the United States regarding their performance prior to the issuance of an OIG Inspector’s Evaluation Report. Not that it matters now, since State/OIG has ended the practice of issuing IERs.

Via FSGB Case No. 2013-028

Grievant, a former Ambassador to REDACTED, appealed the Department’s denial of her 2013 grievance, claiming that an IER prepared in November 2011 focused primarily on the performance of her DCM and contained several “inaccurate statements.” Grievant claimed that inclusion of the IER in her OPF was prejudicial because she had not received counseling on the areas of her performance that were criticized in the report. After soliciting feedback from post personnel, the Department expunged portions of two statements in the IER, but otherwise found the remainder to be an accurate reflection of grievant’s performance, as corroborated by numerous statements from identified Mission employees.

The Board determined that grievant was not counseled on matters that were negatively discussed in the IER, nor was she given an opportunity to improve performance problems raised in the report. The Board concluded that regardless of the purpose for the IER, grievant was entitled to be counseled and provided a reasonable opportunity to improve before she could properly be critiqued on performance deficiencies in an IER. The Board held further that grievant met her burden of proving that she was unaware of the shortcomings mentioned in the IER; she had no reason to become aware of these deficiencies; and, therefore, that counseling could not be excused as harmless error. The Board further found that the IER contained a significant number of inadmissible comments about the performance of the DCM, an identified other employee, and was, therefore, written in violation of applicable regulations that govern the preparation of evaluation reports. The Board concluded that the IER is invalid and ordered it removed from grievant’s OPF.

The Foreign Service Grievance Board decision:

HELD: The Department committed a procedural error by placing in grievant’s Official Personnel File (OPF) a prejudicial Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) that included inadmissible comments about another identified employee, in violation of agency regulations, and without first counseling grievant on certain performance issues mentioned in the IER, or giving her an opportunity to improve her performance. The IER was ordered expunged from grievant’s OPF in its entirety.

There are clips included in the Report of Proceeding:

“I do believe Ambassador REDACTED was aware that DCM REDACTED activities were exacerbating the rift between the front office and the rest of the mission, but I believe it was a type of willful unawareness, perhaps delusional. . . . If [the Ambassador] was not aware or not willing to admit that this rift existed, she was deluding herself. . . . [In All Hands meetings] . . . to the Ambassador, this kumbaya session was clear evidence that she had her finger on the pulse of the mission. It was a charade, but no one could tell the emperor that he had no clothes.”

Grievant submitted the following statements from post employees:

– “I think she didn’t realize the impact the DCM was causing till [sic] the OIG arrived. . . .”

– “I don’t know if she recognized the seriousness of the problems or not. . . . I don’t know if the Ambassador was aware of them or not.”

– “I believe that Ambassador did not fully recognize the seriousness of problems at Embassy If she had recognized the seriousness of the problems, I believe that she would have addressed them in the beginning and not let things get so out of hand.”

The OIG inspection team leader wrote:

REDACTED showed little awareness of the significant impact on morale cause by front office management practices and actions. She was not aware of the extent of negative sentiment concerning front office communications, nor the depth of employee resentment of the intrusive and imperious management style of the DCM. Although scheduled and conducted numerous regular meetings with employees, staff members told inspectors they volunteered little real feedback to the front office, fearing the reaction and the subsequent damage to their careers.

The best part of this decision is this:

What remains are grievant’s claims that the IER improperly focused on the performance of the DCM and a claim that she had a right to counseling prior to inclusion of negative statements in her IER. As to her complaint about the focus of the IER, grievant points out that although the report was meant to address her management and leadership skills, it is largely directed at the DCM’s behavior and contains several comments that did not pertain at all to her performance. We find that what was at issue in the inspection was grievant’s alleged lack of awareness of, and inattentiveness to, the negative effect on post morale that was purportedly caused by the behavior of her subordinates. Because the concern was how well or poorly grievant was performing as Chief of Mission, we find that the IER should have focused on grievant’s performance vis-à-vis her detection and management of post problems caused by a subordinate.
[…]
We think the rule of fundamental fairness applies equally when the performance of an Ambassador is evaluated in an IER, as when an untenured officer receives his first EER. We conclude that “[c]riticisms included in the final [evaluation report] should not come as a surprise to [any] rated employee.” Accordingly, because we see no difference between the impact of performance criticisms in an EER and an IER on an employee’s career opportunities, we conclude that any employee whose work performance is evaluated in an IER, as in an EER, has a right to be notified and counseled about any perceived deficiencies and given a reasonable opportunity to improve before those deficiencies may be included in either evaluative document.

The parties do not contest that grievant received no counseling about any of the criticisms about her performance that were stated in the IER at issue. Grievant presented evidence that shortly before the OIG began its inspection at post in November 2011, the DAS from the regional bureau (and the Office Director visited and met with Mission employees in October. It is unclear whether these individuals received the same information as the OIG team, but grievant reports that neither of them counseled her on any of the matters later identified as performance weaknesses by the OIG team. If grievant’s superiors were made aware of any shortcomings in her work performance, then they should have, but did not, counsel her about them. If they were unaware of any performance deficiencies, then the Department must concede that grievant’s superiors could not, and did not, counsel her. In the absence of counseling, grievant did not have the opportunity to try to improve.

The Department argues that grievant was not entitled to be counseled on matters about which her supervisors were not aware. We do not agree. The fundamental fairness of a performance evaluation hinges on the provision of notice to the rated employee of his or her deficiencies, coupled with a reasonable period in which the employee can make efforts to improve. If a supervisor is unaware of the deficiencies, it is true that he or she cannot counsel the employee, but, it follows, then, that, unless the employee was independently aware of performance deficiencies, he or she ought not be negatively evaluated on those deficiencies of which neither the employee nor the supervisor were aware.

The Department also asserts that even in the absence of counseling, the criticisms contained in grievant’s IER should not have come as a surprise to her because she should have known of the morale problems existing at post. In support of this assertion, the Department provides numerous statements from Mission employees expressing their beliefs that grievant was aware of the problems raised in the IER, but failed to manage them. Grievant responds that not only did her supervisors not tell her of the employees’ complaints, but the employees themselves did not inform her. She speculates that “[i]n hindsight, I recognize that the DCM may have been shielding and insulating me from staff dissatisfaction.” She also cites a number of employees who stated that they did not think she was aware of how the DCM was behaving or how it was undermining morale.

Bureaucratic high drama,very instructive, read it below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

State/OIG Files Report to Congress, Wassup With the In-Depth Review Over CBS News Allegations?

— Domani Spero
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The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General submitted its first semi-annual report to Congress under Steve Linick last March. The report which summarizes OIG’s work during the period October 1, 2013, through March 31, 2014 was not published online until June 2014. Looking at the investigative data from the previous report ending on September 30, 2013, you will note that the OIG registered 182 less complaints this reporting cycle. Employee misconduct is steady at 4% while conflict of interest cases were down from 17% to 4%.  Embezzlement and theft cases went from 8% to 15% and contracts and procurement fraud went from 63% to 70%.

Extracted from Semi-Annual Report, March 2014

Extracted from Semi-Annual Report, State/OIG, March 2014

 

Below is the investigative data from the previous report ending on September 30, 2013:

OIG_SA_report Sept 2013

In the report ending September 30, 2013, State/OIG told Congress it was conducting an in-depth review of Diplomatic Security’s investigative process.  This was in connection with last year’s allegations that several recent investigations were influenced, manipulated, or simply called off by senior State Department officials. (See CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal).

The Office of Investigations (INV) is conducting an independent oversight review of certain investigations conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence, Special Investigations Division (DS/ICI/SID). This is an in-depth review of the DS/ICI/SID investigations to assess the adequacy of the investigative process.

The current OIG report ending on March 31, 2014 makes no mention of the status or disposition of this investigation. That CBS News story broke in June 2013, so we’re now a year into this and still counting.

Oops, wait! A statement provided to CBS News by the Inspector General’s office on June 2013 said:

OIG does not comment on drafts of reports.

On its own initiative, OIG Office of Investigations has been conducting its own independent review of the allegations made. This is our standard procedure.

We staffed it independently and appropriately and they were people hired specific for this review at the end of 2012. They are on staff. We staffed it with the best people we can find at hand to do the job.

DS does not speak for us.

End of 2012 and isn’t it now July 2014?  So — wassup with that?

Mr. Linick’s report to Congress also notes that he has initiated the practice of sending out management alerts to senior Department of State and Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) officials in order to identify high-risk systemic issues requiring prompt attention and risk mitigation. He told Congress that to-date, OIG has issued two management alerts: one addressing significant vulnerabilities in the management of contract files with a combined value of $6 billion and the other addressing recurring weaknesses in the Department’s information-security program.  That’s a great initiative; that means the senior officials will not have an excuse to say later on that they were not alerted to issues that need their attention.

He also writes that the OIG goal is clear — “to act as a catalyst for effective management, accountability, and positive change for the Department, BBG, and the foreign affairs community.”

And that’s a lovely goal and all,really, except that Mr. Linick’s OIG — all together now — no longer issue the Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs) for senior officials during the IG inspections at overseas missions!

No more IERs included in the official performance files (OPF), no more IERs for review by promotion boards, thus, no more IERs to potentially derail promotions.

Ambassador Franklin “Pancho” Huddle who previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan and spent five years as a senior OIG inspector at the State Department told us:

“When OIG dumped their IERs, they dumped their ability to make a real difference.” 

Boom!

When asked if we can quote him, he said, “I didn’t survive one of history’s deadliest skyjackings not to go on record.”

Ambassador Huddle and his wife survived the hijacking and the crash of  Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961, considered the deadliest hijacking involving a single aircraft before the 9/11 attacks.  He  said that he earned three promotions directly related to favorable IERs done by the OIG. He now trains special forces which “put a premium on honest appraisals.”

What he said about making a real difference — anyone want to top that?

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-03/31/14   Semiannual Report to the Congress October 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014  [11136 Kb] Posted on June 23, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

US Embassy Peru: The Ghost of Ambassador Past

— Domani Spero
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State/OIG recently posted its inspection report of the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru with 30 recommendations and 33 informal recommendations. The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between January 6 and February 4, 2014, and in Lima, Peru, between February 5 and March 4, 2014. Ambassador Gene Christy (team leader), Leslie Gerson (deputy team leader), Thomas Allsbury, Laurent Charbonnet, Eric Chavera, Leo Hession, Tracey Keiter, Keith Powell, Ashea Riley, Richard Sypher, Alexandra Vega, Steven White, Roman Zawada, and Barbara Zigli conducted the inspection.

According to the OIG report, Peru is the world’s largest producer of cocaine and the second largest cultivator of coca. The current Peruvian administration has reportedly elevated combatting narcotics production and trafficking to a “national security” priority. Embassy Lima’s priorities are “to support the Government of Peru to defeat narcotics and terrorist organizations; increase trade, investment, economic growth, and social development; and protect the country’s unique environmental resources.

Mission Peru is a large operation with more than 900 employees as of December 2013. Post is headed by Chargé d’Affaires Michael J. Fitzpatrick who arrived in August 2011 and Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Jeffrey M. Hovenier who arrived in July 2011.  The name of the previous ambassador, a career FSO who previously served as ambassador at another WHA post was politely omitted from the report.

On June 19, 2014, career diplomat, Brian Nichols was confirmed by the Senate as the next ambassador to Peru.  This is his first ambassadorial appointment.  He was previously DCM at US Embassy Bogota and the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. He served at Embassy Lima as a first tour officer in 1989. We hope he can pull this mission together. Pardon me?  The mission doesn’t need to be pulled together, just the Front Office?

Below are some of its key judgments from the IG report:

  •  In the past 3 years, Embassy Lima registered many successes in building a strategic United States-Peru partnership, particularly in counternarcotics, trade promotion, security, law enforcement, good governance, and development.
  • The political and economic sections produce relevant and high-quality reporting that is instrumental to Washington policy making.
  • The previous Ambassador put into place many processes and practices that had a negative effect on embassy morale. The chargé d’affaires and acting deputy chief of mission hesitated for months to make changes to improve the mission’s working environment but began to do so recently.
  • The public affairs section should establish clearer priorities and exert stronger missionwide leadership on long-term public diplomacy planning.
  • The management section can improve its generally good service by emphasizing communication with other agencies and offices that rely on the procurement, motor pool, and travel units.
  • The consular workload is growing steadily, and section leadership needs to improve work flow, efficiency, officer training, and the warden system.

Leadership Style, Morale and Paperwork Gone Nuts

  • Embassy Lima did not have a Senate-confirmed ambassador in place at the time of the inspection. After the previous Ambassador’s departure in September 2013, the deputy chief of mission (DCM) became chargé d’affaires, and the head of the mission’s international narcotics and law enforcement affairs (INL) section became acting DCM. Under the previous Ambassador, the mission convinced the Department and highest levels of the U.S. Government to work with President Humala, [REDACTED] (b) (5). Working closely with Peruvian Government, business, and civil society leaders, the mission racked up successes in the pursuit of counternarcotics and antiterrorism goals, in advancing trade growth under the bilateral trade agreement, and in building a strategic partnership. The chargé and acting DCM have sustained this momentum.
  • Initially, the chargé and acting DCM adopted caretaker roles in anticipation of the Ambassador-designate’s quick arrival. Neither of them felt empowered to make significant changes, nor did they want to adopt changes only to make additional ones or reverse others after the new Ambassador’s arrival. By November 2013, they realized their new leadership duties would extend for an indeterminate period.
  • Unfortunately, the previous Ambassador’s policy successes were overshadowed within the mission by a leadership style that negatively affected morale. Uncertain about their tenures and in some cases not fully aware of the effects of the previous Ambassador’s leadership style, the chargé and acting DCM kept in place most internal processes and a few problematic behaviors. Some of these continued to damage internal communications and morale. For example, many mission staff reported that the former Ambassador occasionally criticized and belittled certain section chiefs and agency heads in front of their peers. Onerous and excessive paperwork processes impeded communication. The amount of time and energy required to move memoranda through the front office, as well as insistence on letter-perfect products—even for materials intended solely for internal use—discouraged initiative and information sharing.
  • Mission staff noted front office reliance on a group of trusted mission leaders. Others not in the favored category were more likely to receive attention to weaknesses rather than strengths or potential. The President’s letter of instruction to chiefs of mission states that one of the Ambassador’s most important jobs is “to take care of our diplomatic personnel and to ensure that they have the tools they need to support your efforts.” Other Department guidance speaks to the role of Ambassadors and DCMs in establishing a productive workplace. The impact of the negative environment and uneven attention paid to human capital development is evident in lower-than-average scores for mission morale in pre-inspection surveys.
  • Mission staff told inspectors they had expected the caretaker leaders to eliminate some of the worst practices and processes of the previous 3 years. Comments to the OIG team indicated that those expectations were unmet. Mission staff evaluations of the chargé’s and acting DCM’s management and leadership skills were significantly below the averages of other recently inspected chiefs of mission and DCMs. By hesitating to make immediate changes, particularly in workflow and decisionmaking, the chargé and acting DCM became targets for employees’ frustrations. The OIG team counseled and encouraged mission leaders to institute some changes in behaviors and practices. Near the inspection’s end, the chargé acknowledged leadership shortcomings to the country team and began instituting welcome changes.
  • In addition, many staff members remarked that the atmosphere at meetings detracted from communication. Public criticism, excessive demand for detail, and primary focus on front office activities stifled information sharing and initiative taking among country team members. Some participants restricted their communication during country team meetings, because new ideas usually generated taskings and the attendant, onerous paperwork requirements. Paperwork served as a barrier to communication, not a facilitator, and stymied the kinds of informal communication and quick, issue-focused meetings common in most embassies. Even before the inspection, the chargé and acting DCM increased their access to mission staff. During the inspection, the chargé announced that the front office would relax requirements for information memoranda and welcome more casual, on-the-spot conversations to facilitate decisionmaking.
  • To manage the intense paperwork requirements under the former Ambassador, the mission established an informal staff assistant position that drew consular section and USAID first- and second-tour (FAST) employees to the front office for 3-month rotations. Staffing the position put pressure on both the consular section and the USAID mission, especially when they were shorthanded. Moreover, short rotations forced mission staff to adapt to a series of new staff assistants, who were learning on the job. In 2012, the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs denied the embassy’s request to establish a full-time staff assistant position. The OIG team discussed with the chargé how other similarly sized missions have relied successfully on experienced Foreign Service office management specialists to take on staff assistant duties.

 

One Mission, Kinda

  • In 2011, the Secretary of Defense appointed a new senior Defense officer and Defense attaché  (SDO/DATT) and designated him as the principal Department of Defense (DOD) official at the embassy and his representative to the Ambassador and Government of Peru. The previous Ambassador dealt separately and equally with the mission’s several different DOD elements and sometimes excluded the SDO/DATT from meetings with other DOD components. Recently, the mission prepared a briefing book for the Ambassador-designate. The coordinator of the process tasked each DOD element for separate briefing papers. Failure to recognize the Secretary of Defense’s designation of a SDO/DATT contravened the instruction of the Deputy Secretary of State and disempowered the SDO/DATT.
  • Under the former Ambassador, the Foreign Commercial Service, Foreign Agricultural Service, and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service attachés routed written communications through the economic counselor. In some cases, they believed they were required to report to the front office through him. That practice was still in effect at the time of the inspection. These procedures diminish the attachés’ ability to represent their respective agencies.

 

Feeding the Fish

  • Public Affairs:  The public affairs section runs an extensive set of programs tied to mission themes, but the public affairs officer has been unable to exert strong missionwide leadership on long-term public diplomacy planning. Several factors contributed to this situation–an intimidating atmosphere in embassy meetings resulting in a hesitancy to take ownership of strategic messaging, distractions caused by time-consuming front office demands, and a dearth of experienced officers in the section.
  • Consular:  Consular managers are approachable and emphasize teamwork, but they have not uniformly provided the strategic thinking, procedural guidance, and surge capacity that the section needed to be optimally effective. The consul general and the visa chief have dedicated so much effort responding to detailed front office requests for information that they have not paid enough attention to daily operations. Even absent front office demands, their hands-off management style has prevented them from identifying procedural efficiencies, providing training and feedback for nonimmigrant visa interviewing officers, and modeling interview techniques.The consul general and the visa chief rarely adjudicate visa applications, except for high-profile or referral cases. A recent cable (13 STATE 153746) reminded posts that consular managers are expected to do some interviewing themselves. Not only does the lack of hands-on participation contribute to the long hours that the more junior staff has to spend interviewing, this remoteness from actual processing undermines their credibility as experts. It also reduces the opportunities for management to train new personnel and to identify potential interview technique and workflow efficiencies.
  • EEO: Although grievance procedures are displayed on some chancery bulletin boards, many locally employed staff indicated that they are unfamiliar with their rights under the program and reluctant to voice their concerns. The former Ambassador’s aloofness with regard to locally employed staff and their awareness of the impact of some of her behaviors on American supervisors has also affected willingness to raise workplace issues.

 

We should note that Embassy Lima has 29 First and Second Tour (FAST) employees.  This includes Foreign Service FSOs, specialists and FAST USAID mission staff.   Which is to say that their first or second tour exposure to an embassy environment now includes a leadership style that negatively affected mission morale, experience with ineffective communication, intense “paperworking,” dedicated feeding of the front office and if “lucky,” experience as the preferred “golden children”of mission leaders.

We highlight for scrutiny the chiefs of mission leadership and management of our diplomatic mission in these OIG reports because we believe they are leaders by example. For good or bad.  They can make or break a post.  Most importantly for career ambassadors — even the poorly performing ones have been known to be thrown quietly into the State Department’s Recycle Program.  Before you know it, you see him or her again at other posts providing leadership and management expertise, interpersonal skills and um … creativity — to the point where post needs a misery differential.

Probably the most impressive item in this report is that the previous ambassador departed post reportedly in September 2013 and four months later during the IG inspection, her ghost still haunted embassy operation.  Since she’s not even named in this report, there is no danger that this OIG report would merit a mention in her Certificate of Competency the next time she is nominated for a chief of mission position.

Oh, you think things will get better?

According to the GAO, the OIG is  supposed to inspect each overseas post once every 5 years; however, due to resource constraints, the OIG Office of Inspections has not done so. Thanks Congress!  The OIG Office of Inspections has conducted inspections in an average of 24 countries per year (including all constituent posts within each country) in fiscal years 2010 through 2013. Given their limited resources, according to OIG officials, they have prioritized higher-risk posts — which probably means more NEA, SCA, AF and less EAP, EUR, WHA post inspections.

As well, State/OIG had terminated its “report cards” for ambassadors and senior officials at inspected diplomatic missions. So inspections are only conducted maybe once every five years. And if post does get inspected, the OIG no longer issue its Inspector’s Evaluation Reports  (IER) for any deficient  performance by chief of mission, dcm or other senior officials. (see IERs: We’re Not Doing ‘Em Anymore, We’re Doing Something Better — Oh, Smashing, Groovy!).

So — enjoy the gummy bites!

gummy-bears-o

Gummy Bears by Dentt42 via GIFsoup.com

 

Related item:

-06/30/14   Inspection of Embassy Lima, Peru (ISP-I-14-12A)  [465 Kb]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IERs: We’re Not Doing ‘Em Anymore, We’re Doing Something Better — Oh, Smashing, Groovy!

— Domani Spero

We’ve been harping about the termination of the OIG prepared report cards (officially called Inspector’s Evaluation Reports) for ambassadors and senior embassy officials. For career diplomats, these reports used to be sent to the Director General of the Foreign Service (DGHR) for inclusion in the employees’ official personnel files (OPFs) and were accessible to members of the FS Promotion Boards.  For political appointees, these reports were previously sent to the White House.

The OIG spox told us last week that “Although OIG no longer produces IERs, senior official performance issues that were previously addressed in IERs are now addressed transparently in OIG inspection reports, which are available to all stakeholders.” We’ll have to wait and see what this transparency looks like. We must say, however, that even if  this were true, the fact remains that “senior official performance issues” will no longer be included in the information available to the Promotion Boards. So basically that DCM over there who caused the resignation/retirement/curtailment of FSOs from post for workplace bullying may be penalized in an OIG report that when released to the public may/may not have redactions, but will suffer no consequence when promotion time comes.

Yup, we’re beating this dead horse to death because …

It is true that Inspector’s Evaluation Reports  (IERs) are “non-public documents processed internally within the Department and used for performance evaluations of senior Department leadership”but as we’ve blogged last week, some of these cases do end up in the Foreign Service Grievance Board. And one of these IERs was published in full (stripped of identifying details) in the official record of proceeding.  The consequence in this 2004 case, included the curtailment of the second highest ranking embassy official from post, a year before the scheduled conclusion of his tour. The official subsequently grieved the IER, prepared following a post inspection conducted by State/OIG, alleging that it “did grievous injury to [his] professional reputation and career prospects through distorted and defamatory allegations of managerial negligence.”  In dealing with the various arguments by official/grievant that the IER was false and inaccurate, the Grievance Board found that the official/grievant “failed to shoulder his burden of proof” and denied it in its entirety.

The following IER exhibit is extracted from FSGB 2004-055:

 {Grievant} has served as Deputy Chief of Mission at {Host City} at perhaps the most demanding time in this embassy’s history.  The political and security situation in the nation is highly dynamic, as {blank} insurgents use violence in their efforts to undermine the government, impeding economic development and regional stability.  Tourism has dropped, the safety of remaining Americans has become a constant concern and U.S. engagement with the government of {Host Country} has increased exponentially.  The new U.S. program of military assistance has jumped to $20 million and the budget for longer-term economic and social assistance is at an all-time high of $42 million.  The expansion in U.S. engagement has been matched by dramatic growth of embassy staff.  Over the past year, there has been an increase of more than 50% in State Department American staff – primarily junior officers and specialists in the consular and administrative sections.  This situation demands strong, engaged leadership.  Unfortunately, the management of Embassy {Host City} has not risen sufficiently to meet this challenge.

The ambassador delegated authority for overseeing overall operations of this mission to {Grievant}.  This has included chairing country team meetings, meeting regularly with heads of mission elements, clearing and editing the majority of cable traffic and handling personnel and management problems.  {Grievant} has also had to take center stage in coordinating the assessments of the {blank} threat and communicating and defending that assessment to Washington.  Perhaps, this was too much delegation.  The result has been a daunting workload and a time management problem, with key DCM functions neglected.

Matching the ambassador’s focus on our foreign policy agenda, {Grievant} has worked hard to advance our goals of increased economic and security support to the government of {Host Country} to help combat the {blank} insurgency.  He has been instrumental in helping craft U.S. policy and has carefully coordinated the efforts of embassy sections and agencies working on this priority.  He has also engaged effectively with the {blank} and {blank} embassies to garner their support. {Grievant} worked closely and successfully with the RSO and ADMIN to press Washington for the resources to relocate the vulnerable American Center.  In addition, he successfully worked with the government to overcome legal obstacles to security upgrades at The [sic] embassy’s downtown compound. and [sic] problems related to visas for {Host Country} residents immigrating to the United States.  These are considerable achievements, but they came at a high price.  {Grievant} has generally remained subsumed in policy activities to the detriment of basic management of the embassy.  Tied to his desk, he has not been a visible presence around the mission and has failed to address some key personnel and management problems effectively.

While many staff declared great respect for {Grievant}’ deep experience in {region} and his political skills, their overall assessment of him as a manager and leader was poor.  He received low scores in most categories of OIG questionnaires assessing leadership and direction, with particular weakness in coordination, vision/goal setting, engagement, feedback, judgment and attentiveness to morale.  His lowest mark was in the area of problem solving.

Morale has suffered and employee relations have been strained due to management shortcomings and the intimidating atmosphere some staff face at post.  {Grievant} is not the intimidator.  Quite the contrary, he was appalled at this situation and had consoled officers who were the victims of this behavior.  He did try to diffuse these problems somewhat, but did not deal with them sufficiently.  Poor management practices and the abusive behavior by some key officers to American and local staff were allowed to persist.

Finally, {Grievant} has not provided necessary guidance and mentoring of the many junior officers at this mission.  Indeed, he claimed that – having not had State Department training for a decade – he only became aware of the extent of his responsibilities for them earlier this year, at a management conference in {Embassy}.  Due to the poor management of the post and the abusive atmosphere noted above – some of these junior officers told OIG inspectors that they were now questioning whether they would remain in the Foreign Service.

So now, no more IERs, best try the um …

Pardon me?  You expect that the members of the Promotion Panels will now dig up the unredacted OIG reports when they deliberate the promotability of senior employees?  As Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery used to say, “Oh, smashing, groovy!”  

For reports on performances with redactions, see  the previous OIG reports on US Embassy Islamabad and Constituent Posts, and US Embassy Lebanon; for reports on performances with little or no redactions, see the ones on Luxembourg, Malta, Kenya.

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State/OIG: No More Ambassador Report Cards Cuz They’re Not as Sexy as Debarments?

— Domani Spero

Update, February 28, 2014, 4:23 pm -This blog post has been updated to include a comment from State/OIG spokesman Douglas Welty.

In late January, we learned that the State Department’s Office of Inspector General  no longer issue “report cards” for ambassadors and senior officials during inspections at overseas missions. (See State/OIG Terminates Preparation of Report Cards for Ambassadors and Sr. Embassy Officials).

The Inspector General Office confirmed to us that the practice of preparing these Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs) ended in April 2013.

According to the State/OIG, the official reason for ending the IERs is as follows; let’s call this Razón número #1:

It was an OIG decision, in part based on the points mentioned below that we will continue to comment on executive direction in the course of each inspection in the published report, and because we have seen progress with implementation of the recommendations in the memo report mentioned before (the 360 reviews noted in our 2012 memo report http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/198810.pdf).

The OIG told Congress in oh, 2009, that the overriding purpose for the IERs is “to assure that upper level post management is not immune to criticism as a result of their positions of authority and physical distance from their own supervisors.”  The OIG was supposed to also issue “corrective” IERs for other employees, “when information surfaces that the EERs for such employees are inaccurate, either in a positive or negative direction.”

After we blogged about this, we received the following explanation from an unofficial source with connections to the relevant office. Here’s Razón número #2:

“The reason OIG stopped writing evaluations on Ambassadors, DCMs, and senior management is because the Department could not successfully challenge grievances by those Ambs, etc.  Because the evaluations were based on anonymous comments, grievance boards would throw them out.”

So the issue here is accountability versus due process, is it?

According to MSPB, due process under the Constitution requires that a tenured federal employee be provided “written notice of the charges against him, an explanation of the employer’s evidence, and an opportunity to present his side of the story.” Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 546 (1985). The Court has described “the root requirement” of the Due Process Clause as being “that an individual be given an opportunity for a hearing before he is deprived of any significant property interest.” Id. at 542 (emphasis in original). This requires a “meaningful opportunity to invoke the discretion of the decision maker” before the personnel action is effected. Id. at 543.

But as the cases below show, when these IERs are scrupulously done, the Grievance Board hold that the State Department is justified in keeping them on file.  We thought, it might be useful to dig up a few of these IER cases that ended up in the Foreign Service Grievance Board.

Here is a 1987 Foreign Service Grievance Board case G-093(7):

The inspectors’ Memorandum, Report M-3 laid out in detail what they called “serious problems related to the performance of the [title], [grievant], ” and urged that [grievant’s] next post, [post], be warned.  The memorandum pointed to: “(A) difficulty in establishing her authority among junior officers and the FSN staff; (B) inability to resolve a festering personnel problem caused by the marginal performance of one FSN; (C) problems in organizing “her own work so as to prevent dysfunctional slowdowns in [office work]; (D) difficulty in managing the [office] system.”

This was issued as an IG memorandum, and the career counselor (or what you would call the Career Development Officer now) informed the onward assignment post that the inspectors had found grievant’s performance in country X wanting.  The FSGB notes in its decision that “had the inspectors’ findings been prepared in the form of an Inspector’s Evaluation Report instead of a memorandum report, copies would have gone only to [grievant], to her performance file, and to the rating inspector’s file.”

The Board find that “grievant has not shown that the criticisms of her performance in the inspection memorandum or the EER were false or that she should be promoted.” They also  find that a report of her performance problems should not have been sent to her next post.  The FSGB decision directed the Department to instruct Embassy [post] to destroy any existing copies of the [year], letter concerning grievant from his career development counselor.  It denied other relief requested by FSO-grievant.

A couple of examples of grievance cases related to IERs that were thrown out and the grievant prevailed:

FSGB Case No. 2008-018

Grievant, a mid-level career FSO, challenged an Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) assessing his performance during a 10-month period when he was chargé d’affaires at [Post].  The IER positively appraised grievant’s overall performance under difficult circumstances, but, based on questionnaire responses from and interviews with a “significant cross-section of American and local employees,” the IER concluded that grievant was prone to outbursts of anger that intimidated some of his staff.  Grievant’s efforts to discover the names and statements of the sources of this criticism were refused by the agency because the employees had been guaranteed confidentiality.  Grievant alleged that the IER was “falsely prejudicial, inaccurate, and highly unjust,” since it was based on a distorted and selective use of comments from a small number of dissatisfied personnel and on anonymous sources he could not challenge and because he had not been counseled regarding the performance criticized.

The Board held:  “Grievant met his burden of proof, establishing that critical comments in an Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) were inaccurate and of a falsely prejudicial character.  The agency may not rely on undisclosed anonymous or confidential sources without any independently verifiable evidence in the record to corroborate the criticism in the IER where grievant presents material evidence that directly contradicts that criticism.  The grievance was remanded for the parties to address the question whether grievant would have been promoted in [Year] or [Year], had the erroneous IER not been in his performance folder.”

FSGB 2008-012

The IER stated eleven negative factual findings or conclusions regarding grievant’s managerial performance as head of the [Named Section] during the evaluation period covered by the IER.  These deficiencies consisted, inter alia, of grievant lacking the interpersonal and leadership skills needed to mentor and guide entry level officers (ELOs) and causing or contributing to the resignation or early departure of ELOs in the [Named Section].  The findings and conclusions contained in a “corrective” Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) violate grievant’s rights either because they are contrary to the preponderance of the record evidence, they impermissibly have as their basis sources that remain anonymous or confidential, or they violate grievant’s substantive right to be counseled with an opportunity to improve.

FSGB directed the Department “to expunge the IER in its entirety from grievant’s Official Performance File (OPF) and if grievant has been low-ranked as a result of the inclusion of this IER in his OPF, the Department is directed to rescind such low rankings.”

Some examples of grievance cases related to IERs where the grievance was denied and the Board decided that the State Department was justified in keeping the IERs on file:

FSGB Case No. 2010-031

Grievant, an FS-01 officer serving as [Officer] in [Host Country], challenged an Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) assessing his performance during a 10 month period.  Mr. [Grievant] urged that the IER be expunged from his OPF because the IER process was procedurally flawed and unfair, five specific statements in the IER were falsely prejudicial and inaccurate, and he was not counseled during the evaluation period or given an opportunity to improve his performance.  If the IER were to remain in his file, it would jeopardize any future promotion.  Based on confidential interviews and questionnaires obtained from fifteen embassy staff members by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the IER concluded that grievant was partly responsible for some embassy officers’ consideration of curtailment from the post, that the grievant had trouble making decisions, that he incurred unnecessary delays because of excessive attention to detail, and that he missed deadlines.  Grievant was held responsible for several problems associated with his failure to focus on internal embassy management.

The grievance board denied this grievance in its entirety.  The FSGB held that “Grievant failed to meet his burden of proof to establish that an Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) was “falsely prejudicial and contain[ed] inaccurate, misleading statements obtained through improper methodology.”  The agency was justified in relying on anonymous, confidential sources which formed the basis of the criticisms within the IER.  Such information was independently corroborated and verified through questionnaires solicited from the same embassy staff that had provided the confidential information.  Grievant was provided with these subsequently obtained questionnaires, including the names of staff members who completed them.  Grievant failed to produce evidence that would cast doubt on the agency’s evidence, nor did he carry his burden to demonstrate that the IER process was in violation of due process or that he was not counseled appropriately. “

FSGB Case No. 2004-064

Grievant asserted that an IER prepared while he was Chargé at a post included false and inaccurate criticisms of his management style, was prepared in violation of the Department’s regulations, and was based on anonymous information from unverified sources.  He alleged that the Inspection team leader’s ill will toward him resulted in an unfairly biased and unbalanced evaluation.  He claimed that the low ranking he received by the 2004 Selection Board (SB) was based on the IER, and was procedurally defective because the SB did not adhere to the precepts when it low ranked him.

The Board denied the grievant’s appeal.  The FSGB held that “(1) An Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) concerning grievant by an OIG team leader was prepared in accordance with applicable procedures and regulations; grievant failed to carry his burden of proving bias of the team leader.  (2) Consideration of the IER as the principal basis for a low ranking by a selection board was proper and in accordance with the precepts.”

FSGB 2004-55

Grievant appealed the Department of State’s (agency) denial of his grievance centered on an Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) prepared while he was serving as the Deputy Chief of Mission at an American Embassy.  He alleges that the agency violated applicable law and regulation by the inclusion in his Official Performance Folder (OPF) of a materially false and inaccurate IER.  The IER, prepared following a post inspection conducted by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), “did grievous injury to [his] professional reputation and career prospects through distorted and defamatory allegations of managerial negligence.”

The appeal was denied in its entirety.  The Board found that grievant had not provided persuasive evidence on argument in support of his contention that the inspection “was intentionally biased and consciously violated the letter and spirit of the OIG mandate and some FAM regulations,” and failed to overcome the presumption of regularity that attaches to the official acts of public officials.  This presumption, established by the federal courts, “supports the official acts of public officers, and in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary, courts presume that they have properly discharged their official duties.”  Furthermore, specific evidence is required to overcome the presumption that public officers have executed their responsibility properly.

FSGB 2004-056

{Grievant}, an FE-MC officer with the Department of State (Department, agency), appeals the agency’s denial of his grievance concerning an Inspector’s Evaluation Report (IER) that he received while serving as the U.S. Ambassador in {Host City, Host Country}.  He contends that the IER is inaccurate and false, and damaged his personal and professional reputation and career prospects.  The IER, while lauding grievant’s efforts to advance U.S. foreign policy initiatives, criticized his management skills.  For example, the IER found that some officers characterized grievant’s loss of temper, occasional yelling and inattention to management issues as dysfunctional and unprofessional.  Moreover, junior officers found his conduct intimidating and some questioned whether they would remain in the Foreign Service.

The Department maintains that the IER is accurate and that it was written and issued in accordance with applicable regulations.  Because it received letters of support for grievant, some from junior officers expressing second thoughts about what they had told the inspectors, the agency queried other officers who visited the Embassy at the time of or just after the inspection.  The latter officers confirmed the low morale and lack of proper attention to management issues that led to the critical IER.  The Board held that grievant failed to carry his burden of proof.  On many of the issues raised, grievant simply disagreed with the inspectors’ findings without offering any evidence to the contrary.  On other issues, evidence of grievant’s inappropriate behavior was documented by named witnesses, documents of record, and in some cases his own admissions. The grievance appeal was denied.

We hate to think that the State Department with all its smart people is unable to balance accountability with due process and simply gave up on this.  Folks, you’ve litigated the use of official letterhead, in the past; isn’t this more important than the alleged misuse of official letterhead?

Then, while we were not looking, we received an owl delivery with the following howler from Diagon Alley. Enter Razón número #3:

“Don’t hold your breath–IERs went away BECAUSE of AFSA, not despite it.  New IG is mostly interested in cost-savings and debarments (wants to compete with SIGIR/SIGAR); considers leadership/management issues to be Department’s concern, not IG’s; and has been convinced by Hill/GAO that FS experience is problematic.  Inspection division doesn’t know what hit it.”

Oh dear, doesn’t that make you feel totally like  …

via http://replygif.net/127

via replygif.net

So — which do you think again  is the most feasible reason the Inspector General no longer conduct IERs for ambassadors and senior embassy officials?

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,
Catch La Razón by the toe.
If it hollers,well, say “boo!”
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

Damn, my whole brain is crying; yours, too?

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After this blog post went online, the State/OIG spokesman Douglas Welty sent us a statement, published in full below:

In response to your most recent blog posting,” State/OIG: No More Ambassador Report Cards Cuz They’re Not as Sexy as Debarments?”<http://diplopundit.net/2014/02/28/stateoig-no-more-ambassador-report-ca
rds-cuz-theyre-not-as-sexy-as-debarments/>  transparency is a key component of effective IG oversight.  The Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs), which OIG would produce at the Department’s request, were non-public documents processed internally within the Department and used for performance evaluations of senior Department leadership.  Although OIG no longer produces IERs, senior official performance issues that were previously addressed in IERs are now addressed transparently in OIG inspection reports, which are available to all stakeholders.  OIG’s proper oversight role is to use its reports to alert Department management and other stakeholders (e.g., Congress and taxpayers) so that the Department takes proper management action to address them.

Mr. Welty is a great spox but brain’s still crying.  Next week, we’ll have a publicly sourced exhibit on IERs.

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State/OIG Terminates Preparation of Report Cards for Ambassadors and Sr. Embassy Officials

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We heard recently that the State Department’s Office of Inspector General  no longer issue “report cards” for ambassadors and senior officials at inspected diplomatic missions. Apparently, State/OIG no longer prepare Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs) but that there are measures underway to collect input for the performance of chiefs of mission (COMs). One we’ve heard is evaluation of ambassadors by their deputy chiefs of missions and by desk officers.  (Achoooo! May we point out that the chief of mission is also the rating officer of the deputy chief of mission?) We could not verify those measures because DGHR is not responsive to email inquiries from this blog. However, we can confirm that the Inspector General Office stopped preparing Inspector’s Evaluation Reports in April 2013. We should note that the current OIG Steve Linick was nominated in June 2013 and did not come into office until September, five months after this change was put in place

The next question , of course is — was this an OIG decision and if so, why?  This is what we were told by State/OIG:

It was an OIG decision, in part based on the points mentioned below that we will continue to comment on executive direction in the course of each inspection in the published report, and because we have seen progress with implementation of the recommendations in the memo report mentioned before (the 360 reviews noted in our 2012 memo report http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/198810.pdf).

That memorandum report from State/Deputy OIG Harold Geisel to State/M Patrick Kennedy dated September 19, 2012 talks about Improving Leadership at Posts and Bureaus.  We’ve blogged about it here: State Dept’s Leadership and Mgt School Needs Some Leadership, And It’s Not Alone.  As an aside, the U.S. military is reported to be in various stages of ramping up efforts to implement 360-degrees feedback. According to Marine Corps Times, it is currently used as a self-developmental tool and not/not as a part of the formal system of performance evaluation. The report notes that “Even if there is interest among the brass to formalize the process, there may be big legal hurdles to expanding the 360-review process beyond a strictly confidential tool for self-awareness.” (Previous post on 360 feedback used as a bidding tool: Sexing up the 360-Degree Feedback, Revisited and for the heck of it, this one Earth Embassy Ganymede – Administrative Notice #04-011300).

We think that the termination of IER preparation by State/OIG is a step in the wrong direction.

The problem here is simple. Do we really expect to see the OIG reports to be included in the official personnel file  (OPF) used for promotion consideration?  Of course not.  Comments on senior officials performance on the executive direction portion of OIG reports will not go into their official personnel file.   Some of the more egregious sections in OIG reports, we don’t even get to read because they are politely Sharpied out.  Meanwhile, the persons referred to in these reports are sometimes quietly moved to other posts.  In one case, a DCM was allowed to curtail and landed as a principal officer at another post.  Previously, this DCM was a senior officer at country X where he/she is alleged to have “pushed a seasoned FSO he/she supervised so cruelly and relentlessly, that this FSO attempted suicide.” In another case, a senior management officer was allowed to serve out a remaining tour and moved to one of our more dysfunctional posts at the end of the world.   As if that post needed a bump on its misery factor.  We have typically called this personnel movement, the State Department’s Recycling Program.  Of which we were roundly scolded by one reader who suffered the brunt in one case. “To suggest the Dept.‘s recycling program merely ‘stinks’, is to insult Parisian taxis and slaughter house septic tanks, everywhere.” 

OIG’s FY 2012 inspections found that “while 75 percent of ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission, and principal officers are doing a good to excellent job, 25 percent have weaknesses that, in most cases, have a significant impact on the effectiveness and morale of their posts and certainly warrant intervention by the Department.” Then Deputy OIG Geisel was careful to point out that “The 75 percent/25 percent figures apply to the posts OIG inspected and not necessarily to the Department as a whole.”

And because State/OIG saw “progress” which is not detailed or publicly available, it is terminating the preparation of  IERs for ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission, and other senior officials.

Is that the kind of accountability that serves the public interest and the employees that work in these missions?

In fact, the Foreign Affairs Manual that dictates the preparation of the IERs for senior managers is still in the books and has not been deleted or superseded by new guidance:

3 FAM 2813.5-1 last updated on November 23, 2012 states that OIG Inspectors will prepare Inspector’s Evaluation Reports (IERs) on senior officers (chiefs of mission, permanent chargés, deputy chiefs of mission, principal officers, Assistant Secretaries and deputy assistant secretaries) in connection with each post or bureau inspection. These IERs will be related directly to the officer’s management or supervision of the domestic unit or post abroad being inspected and will constitute a part of the independent review of the operation being evaluated. They will focus on the skills and abilities of rated officers to manage personnel, budgets, resources, and programs. Both career and noncareer officers will be evaluated.

Another section of that FAM cites additional reasons for the preparation of the IERs as follows:

1 FAM 055.6(f) last updated on July 17, 2013 says that IERs may be prepared, at the discretion of inspectors, on any employee for the reasons stated in 3 FAM 2813.5-2, including: (1) To record outstanding or substandard performance that the inspection team leader feels needs further documentation; or (2) To record performance observed during the inspection that noticeably differs from that reported in an employee’s evaluation report prepared by his or her regular supervisors.

What happens to these IERs when prepared by the OIG inspection teams?

“Upon receiving an IER from the inspection team, OIG/ISP designates a panel of three active or retired ambassadors who have been senior inspectors to review the IER. Once approved, the panel sends the IER to the Inspector General. In the case of a career employee, the Inspector General sends it with a memorandum to the Director General of the Foreign Service, requesting that it be placed in the rated officer’s official performance evaluation file. In the case of a noncareer employee, the Inspector General sends it to the Director General to review and send to the Deputy Secretary and White House Liaison Office to forward to the White House’s personnel office.”

So now, since the IERs are no longer prepared, poor performance will no longer be documented and will not appear in the rated officer’s official performance evaluation file. They will appear in OIG reports, which may or may not be redacted, but will not be included in the official personnel file.  The Promotion Boards will have no idea how senior officers manage our overseas missions when those officers names come up for promotion.

Do we really think this a good thing?

Also, the White House is now saved from the embarrassment of learning how some of its “highly qualified” political ambassadors show their deficiencies as stewards of the embassies and representatives of the United States abroad.

One less headache for the Press Secretary to worry about, yes?

The IERs typically are not released to the public. But some of the details occasionally leaks out when cases end up in the Foreign Service Grievance Board. We hope to have a separate blog post on that.

If you value accountability and the proper functioning of the service, you might consider  sending a love letter to State/OIG Steve Linick and asking him to reverse the prior OIG decision of terminating the preparation of IER reports.

Why?

Because … gummy bears!  All teeth, but no bite will have repercussions.

gummy-bears-o

Gummy Bears by Dentt42 via GIFsoup.com

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