Whistleblower Protection Memo – How Useless Are You, Really?

Back in July, we blogged that State/OIG cited a State Department’s revocation of an employee’s security clearance in retaliation for whistleblowing in its Semi-Annual Report to Congress for October 2017-March 2018. State/OIG recommended that the whistleblower’s security clearance be reinstated (see State/OIG Finds @StateDept Revoked Security Clearance in Retaliation For Whistleblowing).  Retaliatory revocation is not an unheard of practice but we believed this is the first time it’s been reported publicly to the Congress.

Also in July, there was a joint OIG-State memo noting that “Whistleblowers perform a critically important service to the Department of State and to the public when they disclose fraud, waste, and abuse. The Department is committed to protecting all personnel against reprisal for whistleblowing.  This summer OIG told us that Congress enacted a new provision in 2017 that requires an agency to suspend for at least 3 days a supervisor found to have engaged in a prohibited personnel practice, such as whistleblower retaliation, and to propose removal of a supervisor for the second prohibited personnel practice. (see @StateDept’s Retaliatory Security Clearance Revocation Now Punishable By [INSERT Three Guesses].

In September, we note the time lapse since the official report was made to the Congress and wondered what action the State Department took in this case.  If the State Department believes, as the memo states that “Whistleblowers perform a critically important service to the Department of State and to the public” we really wanted to know what the State Department has done to the official/officials responsible for this retaliatory security clearance revocation.

We also want to see how solid is that commitment in protecting personnel against reprisal — not in words, but action.  So we’ve asked the State Department the following questions:

1) Has the security clearance been reinstated for the affected employee, and if so, when?

2) Has the senior official who engaged in this prohibited personnel practice been suspended per congressional mandate, and if so, when and for how long? and

3) Has the State Department proposed a removal of any supervisor/s for engaging in this prohibited personnel practice now or in the past?

As you can imagine, our friends over there are busy swaggering and to-date have not found the time to write back.

Folks, it’s been eight months since that annual report went to the U.S. Congress. If you’re not going to penalize the official or officials who revoked an employee’s security clearance out of retaliation, you were just wasting the letters of the alphabet and toner in that darn paper writing out a whistleblower protection memo.

And the Congress should be rightly pissed.

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@StateDept’s Retaliatory Security Clearance Revocation Now Punishable By [INSERT Three Guesses]

 

In July, we blogged about a short item in the latest State/OIG Semi-Annual Report to Congress that indicates it substantiated an allegation of a security clearance revocation in retaliation for an employee’s whistleblowing activity under PPD-19. State/OIG recommended that the whistleblower’s security clearance be reinstated. See State/OIG Finds @StateDept Revoked Security Clearance in Retaliation For Whistleblowing

On July 20, 2018, an unclassified memo jointly signed by Deputy Secretary John Sullivan and State/OIG Steve Linick was released by the Deputy Secretary’s office (with a Whistleblower Info flyer). The memo says in part:

Whistleblowers perform a critically important service to the Department of State and to the public when they disclose fraud, waste, and abuse. The Department is committed to protecting all personnel against reprisal for whistleblowing.

The attached memorandum describes how to make a whistleblowing disclosure and the legal protections that exist for whistleblowers, including Foreign and Civil Service employees and employees of Department contractors and grantees. The memorandum also describes how to file a complaint if you believe you have been subject to improper retaliation.

The memo also identifies the Whistleblower Ombudsman for the State Department as  Jeff McDermott:

The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 requires Inspectors General to designate a Whistleblower Protection Ombudsman. Jeff McDermott has been designated as the Whistleblower Ombudsman for the Department. He is available to discuss the protections against retaliation and how to make a protected disclosure, but he cannot act as your legal representative or advocate. You may contact him atWPEAOmbuds@stateoig.gov.

The memo concludes with a reminder that State Department employees “have a right” to communicate directly with the OIG, and provides contact details:

Remember that Department employees always have a right to communicate directly with OIG. The OIG hotline number is 800-409-9926, and the hotline website is https://oig.state.gov/hotline. OIG’s main website is https://oig.state.gov/.

We suspect that this memo may have been prompted by the IG report to the Congress that an employee had his/her security clearance revoked in retaliation for whistleblowing.

So we wrote to the Whistleblower Ombudsman Jeff McDermott with our congratulations, and, of course to ask a couple of simple questions:

Citing the Sullivan-Linick memo, we asked how is this going to discourage retaliation on whistleblowers when we don’t know what consequences officials face when they are the perpetrators of such retaliation?

Given the latest example of an employee whose security clearance was revoked in retaliation for whistleblowing, we asked if anyone at the State Department has disciplined for doing so?

Since we did not get a response from the Whistleblower Ombudsman, we asked State/OIG for comment last month and was told the following:

Please note that there are different disclosure and review processes for contractor and employee whistleblower retaliation allegations. There is also a different review process for allegations of whistleblower retaliation in the form of actions that have affected an employee’s security clearance. OIG primarily reviews contractor whistleblower and security clearance retaliation allegations, while the Office of Special Counsel generally reviews employee retaliation allegations.

Congress enacted a new provision last year that requires an agency to suspend for at least 3 days a supervisor found to have engaged in a prohibited personnel practice, such as whistleblower retaliation, and to propose removal of a supervisor for the second prohibited personnel practice. OIG believes that these new provisions will demonstrate that there are serious consequences for whistleblower retaliation.

The case you are referring to is a retaliatory security clearance revocation case, and the decision about what action to take has not yet been determined by the Department.

So it’s now September. If the State Department believes, as the memo states that “Whistleblowers perform a critically important service to the Department of State and to the public” we really would like to know what the State Department has done to the official/officials responsible for this retaliatory security clearance revocation.

 

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@StateDept to Hold “Harassment in the Workplace” Session But First, Read This FSI Sexual Harassment Case

Posted: 3:40 am ET

 

For those attending the event, here are a few items to read though this is not an exhaustive list. Help us ask these presenters questions that State/PA and State/DS have long ignored:

While we are on the subject, let us revisit a classic case of sexual harassment, where the State Department, specifically one of the presenting offices in the January 11 session had determined that “the alleged acts of sexual harassment did not occur” only to be reversed by the EEOC.

On January 4, 2012, Complainant filed Complaint 24 alleging that the Agency discriminated against her based on her national origin (Arabic/Iraqi), sex (female), religion (Christian), color, and in reprisal for prior protected EEO activity under Title VII when:

3. Her teaching contract was not renewed after August 5, 2011;

4. She was subjected to a hostile work environment characterized by, but not limited to, name calling and sharing an office.  She specifically asserted that since her conversion to Christianity, she was taunted by her Iraqi colleagues, who called her a “peasant,” a “prostitute,” a “bitch,’ and a “daughter of a dog.” She asserted further that she had been told that she had “sold her religion” and had a shoe thrown at her.  Complainant further asserted that she had been the victim of an unsolicited sexual overture by a colleague; and

5. On September 23, 2011, she was not selected for a full time teaching position.

The Agency completed its initial investigation on Complaint 1 in November 2012.  It did not complete an investigation on Complaint 2.  On Complaint 2, according to the Agency, Complainant did not submit an affidavit for the investigation.  Around that time – on March 14, 2013 – Complainant signed forms withdrawing Complaints 1 and 2.5  The Agency ceased processing Complaint 2, but went ahead and issued a FAD on Complaint 1 on May 13, 2013.

In its FAD, the Agency found no discrimination on Complaint 1.  Complainant filed an appeal.  On appeal, the Agency did not note that Complainant previously withdrew her complaint.

In EEOC Appeal No. 0120132236 (May 16, 2014), we recounted that Complainant was provided the right to request a hearing before an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Administrative Judge, but there was no evidence she did so.  We reversed the FAD on the ground that the investigation was inadequate.  Unaware that that Complainant withdrew Complaints 1 and 2, we ordered the Agency to do a supplemental investigation and to consolidate Complaint 2 with Complaint 1 if the Agency was still processing Complaint 2 and had not yet issued a final decision thereon.

In its request for reconsider EEOC Appeal No. 0120132236, the Agency argued that it issued its FAD on Complaint 1 in error, and that Complainant previously withdrew Complaints 1 and 2.  It submitted a copy of its letter to the EEOC compliance officer about the withdrawal of Complaint 1, and Complainant’s signed withdrawals.  We denied the request on the ground that it was untimely filed, and repeated our order in EEOC Appeal No. 0120132236.

Following a supplemental investigation on Complaint 1, the Agency issued a new FAD finding no discrimination therein.  The Agency found that Complainant was not denied the opportunity to attend training and to proctor tests, and the alleged acts of sexual harassment did not occur.  The Agency recounted that it ceased processing Complaint 2 after she withdrew it.6

The EEOC’s decision says that the “Complainant was not subjected to discrimination regarding issue 2” but it determined that “Complainant was subjected to discrimination based on her sex regarding issue 1 – sexual harassment.”

This case which was filed in 2010 was decided by the EEOC on July 7, 2016. Six years. The State Department was ordered to take the following remedial actions within 150 days after the decision became final, and was directed to submit a report of compliance, as provided in the statement entitled “Implementation of the Commission’s Decision.”  The report shall include supporting documentation of the agency’s calculation of back pay and other benefits due complainant, including evidence that the corrective action has been implemented.”

1. The Agency is directed to conduct training at FSI, School of Language Studies for all management and staff in the Arabic Section.  The training shall focus on how to identify and prevent sexual harassment connected with employment.14

2.  If S2 is still employed with the Agency, it shall consider taking disciplinary action against him.  The Agency shall report its decision.  If the Agency decides to take disciplinary action, it shall identify the action taken.  If the Agency decides not to take disciplinary action, it shall set forth the reason(s) for its decision not to impose discipline.

3.  The Agency shall gather evidence on compensatory damages, including providing Complainant an opportunity to submit evidence of her pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages regarding being sexually harassed.  For guidance on what evidence is necessary to prove pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages, the parties are directed to EEOC Enforcement Guidance: Compensatory and Punitive Damages Available Under § 102 of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 (July 14, 1992) (available at eeoc.gov.)  Thereafter, the Agency shall calculate damages, pay Complainant any damages awarded, and issue a new FAD on damages appealable to the Commission.

The State Department was also directed to post the EEOC order:

The Agency is ordered to post at its Foreign Service Institute, School of Language Studies copies of the attached notice.  Copies of the notice, after being signed by the Agency’s duly authorized representative, shall be posted both in hard copy and electronic format by the Agency within 30 calendar days of the date this decision becomes final, and shall remain posted for 60 consecutive days, in conspicuous places, including all places where notices to employees are customarily posted.  The Agency shall take reasonable steps to ensure that said notices are not altered, defaced, or covered by any other material.  The original signed notice is to be submitted to the Compliance Officer at the address cited in the paragraph entitled “Implementation of the Commission’s Decision,” within 10 calendar days of the expiration of the posting period.

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AAFSW Secretary of State’s Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad

Posted: 1:25 am ET
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The annual Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide AAFSW/Secretary of State’s Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA) recognizes the outstanding volunteer activities of U.S. Government employees, spouses, family members over the age of 18, EFM domestic partners, and members of household who are living and working overseas.  The winners of the Secretary of State’s Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA) are selected by a panel of representatives from AAFSW, FLO and the Executive Director or representative from each State Department geographic bureau.

The awards will be given on Tuesday, November 7, 2017 at 11:00 a.m. at the Department of State. Deputy Secretary John J. Sullivan will deliver the remarks. The awardees are as follows:

AF – Grace Anne Turner, Dakar, Senegal

Upon arriving in Dakar and viewing the severe poverty and inadequate medical care around her, Grace Anne Turner looked for opportunities to work as a clinician. She joined the staff of the House of Hope, a large primary care clinic that sees 35,000 patients per year. Impressed by her dedication and commitment to quality of care, the clinic asked her to oversee a staff of physicians, nurses, and auxiliary staff that provided care to 50 children a day.

Grace Anne focused on two areas for immediate improvement: patient intake and treatment of dehydration. Dr. Grace formed a cadre of expat volunteers and designed a screening and training program for them to administer; with the help of these volunteers, the previous slow patient processing sped up dramatically. Regarding dehydration, a common and serious ailment among Senegalese children, Grace Anne devised an ingenious way to train mothers to rehydrate their ill children at home.

She also trained House of Hope staff to use a version of the World Health Organization triage system, designed to prioritize those at greatest risk of death or disease transmission. In its first operating 18 days, the new system identified 45 critically ill patients (26 of them children). The new procedures were instrumental in identifying and stopping a potentially dangerous outbreak of measles throughout urban Dakar. Noticing several patients who met the definition of suspected measles, Grace Anne immediately contacted the health ministry. An intervention team (including Grace Anne) found a large number of cases in a marginalized (and unvaccinated) community. That same team conducted an intensive education and vaccination campaign that stopped the outbreak in its tracks.

”Dr. Grace” raised the profile of the clinic in the local community and internationally, drawing in thousands of dollars in donations, medicines, and materials. During her time at House of Hope, Dr. Grace improved its training programs, its material and human resources, its treatment algorithms, and its strategic planning for the future.

EAP – Craig Houston, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Working entirely without compensation, staff, or a budget, Craig Houston created a multi-faceted website (http://www.chiangmaiair.org/) to promote air quality awareness during northern Thailand’s annual agricultural burning seasons, provide sustainable solutions to the problem, and support information sharing. He partnered with local government air quality experts, NGOs, schools and film directors to tackle this issue.

To increase awareness and reporting of seasonal high pollution levels, Craig met with local schools and small businesses to provide training on the use of air quality monitors, and by the end of 2017, he will have assisted eight schools and local businesses to obtain and install air quality monitors.

In addition to his work on air quality awareness, Craig is the Chair of the Consulate’s Green Team. Under Craig’s leadership, the consulate has screened films raising awareness of air quality issues, partnered with local U.S. government grant recipient NGOs who work closely on the issue, and participated in numerous community service endeavors including tree planting and city cleanup projects.

Craig’s selfless dedication to this vitally important issue has helped improved the health and lives of northern Thailand’s residents and visitors.

EUR – Alesia Krupenikava, Kyiv, Ukraine

As the first ever Regional Ambassador of the Technovation Challenge in Ukraine, Alesia was able to recruit more than 150 girls from all over Ukraine to participate in the program, find 50 mentors to coach them, raise over $20,000 to send a team to the finals in San Francisco, sign up partners like Microsoft and the Ministry of Education, and recruit a team to take over and grow the program when she departs post.

This was the first time Technovation, the world’s largest tech and entrepreneurship contest for girls ages 10-18, had been conducted in Ukraine. When the original Regional Ambassador stepped down, Alesia was asked to take her place. Alesia was a tireless recruiter and promoter for Technovation, holding numerous meetings and information sessions and spent countless hours answering calls and emails to explain the program. The most meaningful thing for Alesia was that teams were signing up from all over Ukraine and from all backgrounds, including a team made up of girls with HIV, and others from orphanages and centers for families in crisis. Supporting the teams became an almost full time job by itself, and Alesia was a constant motivator and cheerleader for the girls.

The culmination of the program is a live event where the teams present their projects in demo sessions and give a “pitch” to a panel of judges and the audience. Alesia recruited the top technical university in Ukraine to host the event and another university for housing. She formed partnerships with organizations such as Microsoft to support the program, and was able to raise over $20,000 to pay for travel to Kyiv, prizes for the teams, and for one team to attend the World Pitch Event in San Francisco.

SCA – Lisa A. Hess, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Lisa Hess created and leads the U.S. Embassy Colombo community outreach team that provides great benefits to Sri Lanka while also providing the U.S. mission community an opportunity for service.

Many of Lisa’s actions engaged U.S. Navy sailors visiting Sri Lanka. In 2016, the Captain of the USS Blue Ridge, command ship of the 7th Fleet, requested two days of community relations activities involving 30 U.S. and 10 Sri Lankan sailors. Lisa volunteered for this task and identified a community center in a poor area that provides education, food, medical treatment, and much more. Lisa raised the funds to pay for paint and materials needed for the sailors to conduct a renovation project at the center and make a contribution towards new playground equipment. The American and Sri Lankan sailors, community center patrons, and Embassy staff worked together to paint desks, tables, benches, classrooms, and playground equipment.

Lisa also organized outreach for U.S. and Sri Lankan sailors from the USS Hopper and USS Comstock to, including an activity at dental clinics in which children practiced their tooth-brushing skills on a sailor wearing a giant alligator costume, as well as cleaning debris from children’s playing fields. Other community outreach included repairing a local no-kill animal shelter, and cleaning and painting rooms at a local school for the deaf and blind.

Within the Mission, Lisa coordinated bake sales; helped prepare food for and serve our entire embassy community at our Black History Month breakfast; helped manage the U.S. booth at the overseas School of Colombo fun fair; and led a book drive for the school library. Funds raised in the bake sales and fun fair were used to establish a library for an under-privileged local school.

WHA – Maritza V. Wilson

As a Nicaraguan who practiced medicine in her native country before becoming a U.S. citizen, Maritza Wilson has been uniquely equipped to make a significant contribution as a volunteer in Nicaragua.

Maritza focused her efforts through a non-profit organization called Amos Foundation (Fundación Amos), a group that serves a local community (barrio) in Managua via a walk-in clinic, home visits, and health education. Maritza became one of the regular volunteer doctors at the clinic, participating in home visits and home surveys to better understand the needs of the barrio and train members of the community in basic home health care–ensuring the sustainability of her efforts. Maritza’s work with Amos Foundation also extended to Nicaragua’s rural areas, including a remote village on the opposite side of the country in the impoverished Caribbean Coast. Serving that community for one full week, she instructed villagers in basic community health concepts, such as how to use (and clean) filters to avoid water-borne illness.

Maritza’s work also involved the hosting of training teams, known locally as brigades, from the U.S. Maritza’s knowledge of both cultures and languages has enabled her to integrate many of these teams seamlessly into the local context, maximizing their effectiveness. Maritza has organized and led training sessions for more than 1,000 high school students at four schools, offering instruction that covered reproductive health and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. She has also worked alongside U.S. neurosurgeons visiting Nicaragua each year to provide training and assistance in neurology treatment at the main public hospital in Managua.

Maritza has also worked to develop economic opportunities for families in her home village of San Juan de Oriente, a community famous for a unique type of pottery. Maritza started a non-profit venture to expand marketing opportunities for local artisans’ pieces and to create new ceramics products. Maritza plans to leave the business in the hands of the families she is serving—ensuring her volunteer efforts will have an enduring impact on this community.

For more information about the award, please visit: http://www.aafsw.org/services/sosa

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D/S Sullivan Swears-In Justin Siberell as U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain

Posted: 1:21 am ET
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Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan officiates the swearing-in ceremony for Ambassador-designate to the Kingdom of Bahrain Justin Hicks Siberell at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on November 3, 2017. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

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House Foreign Affairs Committee Holds Hearing on @StateDept ReDesign With Tillerson Oops, Sullivan

Posted: 2:24 am ET
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On Tuesday, September 26, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is holding a hearing on the State Department’s redesign efforts. You’d think that the chief sponsor of this entire endeavor, Secretary Tillerson would be at the hearing to answer questions from congressional representatives. But it looks like Mr. Tillerson is meeting the Holy See Secretary for Relations with States Paul Gallagher at the Department of State at 10:25 a.m.. That leaves his Deputy John  Sullivan as “it” for the hot seat instead.

Chairman Royce on the hearing: “This hearing is the latest in our ongoing oversight of the State Department’s vital work. It will allow members to raise important questions about the State Department’s redesign plan, and help inform the committee’s efforts to authorize State Department functions.”

The American Academy of Diplomacy previously wrote to Secretary Tillerson requesting that the reorganization plan be made public and was refused (see Former Senior Diplomats Urge Tillerson to Make Public @StateDept’s Reorganization Plan).  The group has now written a new letter addressed to the House Foreign Affairs Committee expressing its support for the “sensible streamlining and the elimination of offices and positions in order to promote effective diplomacy.” It also tells HFAC that it believes that “the Administration should reconsider the decision to declare its plan for reorganization “pre-decisional.” The Congress should ask that the plans to date and those to be considered be made available for public comment.” More:

The Academy believes certain principles should guide the reorganization.
–Change only those things which will strengthen U.S. diplomacy.
–People are more important than programs. Programs can be rebuild quickly. Getting a senior Foreign Service takes 5 to 20 years.
–As a rule, front-line personnel should be increased, although there are Embassies where there are more people, including those from other agencies, than U.S. interests require

It points out that the Foreign Service has a built-in RIF in its system:

The Foreign Service, as up-or-out service, loses about 300 – 400 FSOs and Specialists each year by selection out for low ranking, expiration of time in class, failure to pass over a promotion threshold or reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65. Only Foreign Service personnel are subject to world-wide availability. With their experience, capabilities and languages, they can be sent anywhere, anytime to meet America’s foreign policy objectives. Over the last 12 years the largest personnel increases have been the additions of Civil Service personnel in State’s Regional and, particularly, Functional Bureaus.

And there is this interesting request for clarity on potential appointees; are there talks that DGHR would be filled by a political appointee?

We believe the key positions of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, the Director General, and the Dean of the Foreign Service Institute should be career Foreign Service Officers. The Director General, a position established by the Act, should be appointed from those that have the senior experience and personal standing to guide the long-term future of the staff needed for effective diplomacy. We respectfully ask that Congress get clarification as to whether it is the Department’s intention to nominate an appropriately senior serving or retired Foreign Service Officer for the position of Director General.

The group also writes that it “encourage the Congress to press hard for clarity about the objectives of this reorganization process: is the goal increasing effectiveness or rationalizing budget decisions?”

Read the letter below or click here (PDF).

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D/Secretary Sullivan Touts 500 Additional Comments Submitted to Redesign Portal

Posted: 3:40 am ET
Updated: 3:12 pm PT
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Deputy Secretary John Sullivan held a town hall for State Department employees on August 8, 2017 (see Three Reasons For Sullivan’s Town Hall, Plus Feedback, and Some Re-Design Concerns;  Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s Town Hall With @StateDept Employees Now in Gifs), and  Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable.  He recently updated employees with several questions he promised to answer during the town hall.

In a brief message to employees, D/S Sullivan said that “the redesign process is moving ahead on schedule” and that they appreciate the employees participation.  Apparently, before the town hall, the State Department received approximately 300 suggestions/ comments submitted to the online portal dedicated for the redesign. Mr. Sullivan told employees that in the week after the town hall, they had received more than 500 additional submissions to the portal. “Each of those contributions has been reviewed and considered by the teams working on the redesign effort.” He urge employees to “remain engaged” as “we work together to improve this wonderful institution to which you and so many others have given so much over our nation’s history.”

On the Department’s Pathways Programs

D/S Sullivan announced that on August 17, Secretary Tillerson approved conversions to one-year term, part-time Civil Service appointments for Pathways interns who have successfully completed the program, who are within their 120-day conversion period, and have been recommended for conversion by their hiring bureaus.

On LGBT employees/assignments

D/S Sullivan told employees that the Department is “dedicated to ensuring equal treatment for all employees.” He informed employees that the State Department “pro-actively maintain a matrix to assist LGBT colleagues planning assignments overseas.” He also told employees that as of 2017, 97 governments have granted accreditation. “This is 58 percent of reported countries, which is a substantial increase since we started monitoring accreditation in 2011. We have also made significant progress in moving countries off the “No” list into another category that may be short of accreditation but provides employees with additional options.”  

On the Travel Approval Process

He informed employees that “there has been no change to the process for routine international travel and a clarification has already been sent to bureau front offices.” We’ve previously learned that the guidance was issued Monday evening, August 7, that ALL overseas travel “to participate in events” must be approved via action memo to the Secretary himself. It also requested a detailed budget breakdown of the trip and information on other participants. The same guidance was rescinded by Tuesday evening, August 8.

Mandatory Retirement Age to 66

D/S Sullivan notes that the mandatory retirement age is a component of the Foreign Service’s up-or-out system, which was modeled after a similar system in the military. “It is also a recognition of the rigors and stresses of a Foreign Service career, largely spent overseas in often difficult and dangerous places.” He notes further that any change to the mandatory retirement age would require a change to the Foreign Service Act of 1980.  His response also cites the exception to the mandatory retirement at age 65  – if the Secretary of State “determines it to be in the public interest to retain someone for a period not to exceed 5 years beyond the mandatory retirement age.” 

That’s in the books, but we’ve never heard of the secretary of state invoke that exception. In one case we are aware of where an FSO was subject to mandatory retirement and asked how he/she can request that exception, HR reportedly told him/her not to bother.

A reader feedback notes that there were mandatory retirement exceptions granted to some FS specialists, specific to Financial Management Officers.  We were informed that extensions for FMOs seem to happen with regularity although “not everyone asks, and some that ask are politely told ‘don’t bother’.”  Those who were granted limited extensions were given 1-2 years and appears to be “high performers who for one reason or another were FS-1s who did not make SFS and were vital members of the regional bureau budget team.”  

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Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s Town Hall With @StateDept Employees Now in Gifs

Posted: 3:09 am ET
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On August 8, while Secretary Tillerson remains on travel, Deputy Secretary John Sullivan had a town hall with employees at the State Department.  The event was closed to the press though there was one report filed soon after it concluded. We’ve got thoughts about this, so we wrote Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable.

Now, we think that this town hall was put together in a hurry to counter the deluge of bad press that’s been flooding our inboxes about the State Department, and Secretary Tillerson in particular. Why do we think that? Because Mr. Sullivan, who we’re told is personable and likable, was not as prepped as he should have been if this was appropriately planned. Secretary Tillerson is on travel from August 5-9, so a wait of 48-72 hours after his return to hold a town hall would have been feasible. But somebody must have decided that the negative reports have reached a tipping point and that they must be addressed before Tillerson returns to office. So now that his deputy has held one, Secretary Tillerson no longer has to do one. Or not immediately. According to Mr. Sullivan, Secretary Tillerson will do one in three months, “He’s going to do one in three months, and it will be the same format as I used today.”

The State Department obviously want the press corps to write about the town hall, how the deputy secretary is taking questions from employees, and answering them, and to impress upon media folks that things are going well in Foggy Bottom. And yet, the event was closed to the press. We are guessing that the State Department wanted good press clips, but did not really want members of the media to witness the question and answer. Unscripted things happen in those events, sometimes embarrassing ones and reporters could write up those stuff. And then you have a bigger fire.

As far as we are aware, no video was posted of the town hall and no transcript was made publicly available, though there are a few photos. But after the event concluded, the State Department made Deputy Secretary Sullivan available for On-the-Record Briefing With the State Department Press Corps.  We’re hearing from Mr. Sullivan, but we’re not hearing from the folks who asked him questions. See the interesting gap there? In any case, here are the things that we found notable from Mr. Sullivan’s on-the-record briefing. We’ll address the interesting gap next time.

Hitting on all cylinders!

John J. Sullivan: “So we’ve been very busy; he’s been very busy, supported by our great Foreign Service and Civil Service here at the State Department. So the notion that’s been out in the press and in the media of a hollowed-out State Department that is not effective, I think, is counterfactual, and the fact that the Secretary and the department have been able to accomplish what they have is evidence of the fact that we are hitting on all cylinders even though we don’t have the full complement of political appointees that we should have.”

 

 

Frozen, who’s frozen?

JJS: “I don’t think anyone would say – no one here would say that we’re pleased by the fact that we don’t have more of our under secretary and assistant secretary slots filled, but we’re working hard to do that. Those slots are not being – those slots are not being frozen or not filled because of the redesign that’s underway. […] So I think the last stat I saw was that we have roughly 60 percent of the unders and assistant secretaries slots either confirmed, nominated, or in the process, so getting – undergoing the security clearance review and so forth. And we hope to get all of those slots filled as quickly as we can.”

Is @StateDept Reporting Its Vacant Positions Under the Vacancies Reform Act? Barely, According to GAO Database

via tenor.com

 

Five working groups — who are you people?

JJS: “But the redesign is in midstream. It’s really the – we’ve really hit our stride, and this month is going to be a key one for the working groups that are leading the effort on – there are five working groups that are leading the effort on redesigning the State Department. And I’d be happy to give you a little more detail on that if you would like to hear about that. […] So whether it was the mission statement that I was talking about earlier, the draft mission statement, to reorganization of the – of bureaus, that’s all going to be fed up through this redesign process, employee-led, and with input over time this month – later this month from other interested stakeholders, whether it’s senior leaders of bureaus in the department, union – unions – AFSA, for example, OMB, members of Congress. So we’re going to be as transparent as possible as we go forward and reach final decisions on these issues, and eventually implement them.”

COMMENT: Oh, yes, we’re interested on more details about these working groups. Who are in these five working groups? How were they selected? Who selected them? How transparent was the selection? Where can we find their names? How long are they expected to work in these groups. Have they been detailed to these groups or are these their collateral duties?

Growing Body of Work on Rex Tillerson’s Stewardship of the State Department

Why ‘Rexit” Is Not Happening Anytime Soon, in Rex Tillerson’s Own Words

via tenor.com

 

Hold on, the noise is coming from the building!

JJS: “I am from Boston and a New England Patriots fan, and those of you who know football know Bill Belichick’s motto is: Do your job and don’t pay attention to the noise out there. But in this town, it’s kind of hard to miss when your friends and colleagues start calling you and emailing you about the latest article that appeared.”

 

Helllooooo A/GIS/DIR – show yourself!

JJS: “And what we’ve discovered is that over the last seven years or more there have been hundreds of delegations of authority that no one had kept track of and there was no central either registry or system so that a current assistant secretary would know exactly what had been delegated to her or to him.”

COMMENT: Per regulations dated March 1, 2010, the State Department’s Office of Directives Management (A/GIS/DIR) under the Bureau of Administration (presently carrying on without an Assistant Secretary) manages the Department of State’s Delegations of Authority Program. It processes delegations of authority for publication in the Federal Register, and — get this — maintains the Department’s inventory of delegations of authority, including the Web-based Delegation of Authority Database.  So A/GIS/DIR assigns appropriate serial numbers to delegations of authority and maintains the Department’s records of official delegations. In addition, A/GIS/DIR maintains an electronic listing and database of all current and rescinded Department delegations on the A/GIS/DIR website.

WHO KNEW? 

Via Imgur

 

John, call your office now!

JJS: “So there are elements of truth in some of these stories, whether it’s about the delegation of authority or about the mission statement, but then they’re twisted in a way that makes it sound as though the Secretary is out of touch, mismanaging, whatever. [….] So I think there’s really a misperception both of the department and what we’re doing and his role in the department.”

COMMENT: The State Department should have every opportunity to respond to stories we write about it. They lost that opportunity when they banned this blog and refused to respond to email inquiries. See our original post on delegations of authority: Tillerson Rescinds Delegated Authorities Department-Wide, Further Gums Up Foggy Bottom). See our follow-up here: Making Sense of Tillerson’s Rescinded Delegations of Authority @StateDept/ .

As recently as last week, we asked about a specific case regarding a DS agent accused of rape and stalking. But all there are … are crickets (See A Woman Reported to Diplomatic Security That She Was Raped and Stalked by a DS Agent, So What Happened?). Hey, we’ve also asked about the “Naughty List” but still got crickets ….so anyways, we got work to do …

 

Noooo! Not the 1960’s or why Colin Powell should call in to protest

JJS: “I – once I asked – I won’t name him by name, because I don’t want to drag him into a news story, but I asked a retired, very senior Foreign Service officer – I had lunch with him not – just before I got – just before I came on board here. I asked him about what he knew about morale at the State Department, and he said morale at the State Department is very low. He said, “It was low when I started in 1960 and it’s still low. It’s the nature of the State Department.”

COMMENT: We wrote a bit about Colin Powell here: Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable.

 

Congrats, it was all for nothing!

JJS: “I think it’s almost 800 EFMs that have been approved since this – the hiring freeze was imposed.”

COMMENT: We’ve said this before and we’ll say this again. Whether the State Department is successfully reorganized or not, there will remain a need for community liaison coordinators, security escorts, consular associates, mailroom clerks, security coordinators, etc. at our overseas posts. So the freeze on these jobs did not make a whole lot of sense in the first place. But it did make life at overseas posts more difficult for employees who have to cover for these unfilled positions, and make for distressed diplomatic spouses who already suffer from extended under employment when they go overseas.

See Unemployment Status of @StateDept Family Members Overseas (4/2017) #ThanksTillerson

Oy! That Rumor About Foreign Service Family Member Employment as “Corporate Welfare”;
Are #EFM positions literally about to become…extinct under #Tillerson’s watch?;
No thaw in sight for @StateDept hiring freeze until reorganization plan is “fully developed”

 

Making Ops Center Watchstanders’ Lives Easier Soon!

JJS: “We don’t put a lot of – we don’t have a huge budget for things. We have a budget for people and we’re going to organize ourselves better, to use our people better, to – excuse me, to put our people and our employees in a position to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently, and to make their – make their jobs, their professional lives easier.”

COMMENT: The State Department is making folks’ professional lives easier already. And it’s starting with the watchstanders at the Operations Center. The State Department has directed that Ops tours should now be two years instead of 13 months. The nomination request cable went out already. For the first time ever, the Ops Center will have officers working insane shifts on two year rotations 24/7. More on that later. And they’re making lives easier for families, too. We’ve been hearing issues with umbrella schools for homeschooling families and issues with allowances related to Foreign Service children with special needs.

Image via Canadian Foreign Service Problems

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Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable

Posted: 3:01 pm PT
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On August 8, while Secretary Tillerson remains on travel (seen in Thailand with Foreign Minister Pramudwinai in Bangkok), Deputy Secretary John Sullivan had a town hall with employees at the State Department.

According to Politico, the State Department’s No. 2 official assured staffers Tuesday that plans to restructure the department would take their concerns into full account, comparing the coming changes to U.S. military reforms following the Vietnam War. The report notes that his “reference to post-Vietnam reforms in the U.S. military suggests major changes are afoot; the military saw major changes in organization, doctrine, personnel policy, equipment and training.”

While it certainly is a good development that employees were able to hear directly from the deputy secretary and he did take and answer questions, we remain convinced that Secretary Tillerson himself needs to do the town hall, not his deputy. Secretary Tillerson often talks about accountability as one of his three core values, one that he asked his employees to adopt.

Well, morale is bad. And S is accountable. Folks need to see him and hear him address their concerns.

Had Secretary Tillerson and his inner circle expended the necessary time and energy to get to know the building and its people during the transition before jumping into reorganization, they would not be battling bad press every day six months into Tillerson’s tenure.

Politico also reported that toward the end of the town hall, Mr. Sullivan “urge State staffers not to believe everything they read in the press about what is happening in the agency.” 

Okay! So that’s funny.

This was going to be our one post on the town hall, but we saw that Mr. Sullivan had now given an on-the-record briefing to members of the press regarding his town hall. So, we will do a separate post dedicated to Mr. Sullivan’s town hall.  While still working on that, we have three points to make quickly.

One, the press did not invent these stories. State Department folks in and out of service are talking to media outlets. We’ve never seen these many sources talking to the press in all the years that we’ve covered Foggy Bottom. The press reports these stories, of course, some with less restraint than others, and some without context; that’s just a couple of the complaints we’re heard. Is this healthy for an organization that is already undergoing stresses brought about by the re-organization? Obviously not. And Foggy Bottom is practically a rumor machine these days.  But there’s a reason for that.  If folks are talking, that’s because management is not doing a good job communicating with the employees. Heck, we have more folks reading this blog this year, and it’s not because we’re irresistibly entertaining.

(Hello to our 500,000th visitor this year! We’re glad to see you here!)

Two, there’s a lot that the Tillerson Front Office is doing that we don’t understand. And that’s okay, we’re not privy to their thinking or their plans. And since the State Department’s Public Affairs shop has put us on its shit list (you know, for laughing out loud during April Fools’), there’s no way to get an official word from the Building.  If we’re using our own resources without official comments from Foggy Bottom to help explain whatever it is they’re doing, just know that we did not ask them to put us on their shit list. That was perfectly voluntary on their part.

So anyway, when people — who have dedicated their lives to this organization for years, who have gone through other transitions and survived, who have served under Democratic and Republican administrations and supported the policies of those administrations when they were in office (as they’ve affirmed when they were appointed to these jobs) — when those folks throw up their arms in frustration and distress, and they, too, do not understand, then we have to sit up and pay attention. It doesn’t help that Secretary Tillerson and his immediate people, when they do talk uses descriptions of what they’re doing as if they’re in an alternate universe. “No preconceived notions,” “employee-led reorganization” “no chaos” — we do not need to be a genius to recognize that those are talking points intended to shape their preferred narrative.

Three, the notion that Secretary Tillerson and his people arrived at Foggy Bottom where everything is broken, and they are there to fix it is kinda funny.  They did not know what they did not know, but that did not deter them from doing stuff, which broke more stuff. Perhaps the most substantial reinvention of the State Department in modern times, about systems, and work, and people, happened during Colin Powell’s tenure. That happened because 1) Powell was wise enough to recognize the value of the career corps; and 2) he brought in people who were professionals, who knew how to work with people, and — let’s just say this out loud — people who did not have atrocious manners.

When Secretary Powell showed up in Foggy Bottom in January 2001, he told State Department employees, “I am not coming in just to be the foreign policy adviser to the President,… I’m coming in as the leader and the manager of this Department.”  The building and its people followed Secretary Powell’s lead because they could see that his actions were aligned with his words. And of course, Secretary Powell did not start his tenure by treating career people with 30-year service like trash by giving them 48 hours to clear out their desks.

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SFRC Grills D/S Sullivan About @StateDept FY18 Reauthorization Bill and Reorganizational Plans

Posted: 4:22 am ET
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Deputy Secretary John Sullivan appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 18 for a hearing intended to Review the State Department Reauthorization Bill for FY 2018 and the State Department Reorganization Plans. As we expected, the deputy secretary cited the “listening tour” as the “cornerstone” of the agency’s redesign efforts:

In the 21st century, the United States faces many evolving threats to our national security. As the Committee knows well, the State Department – with a workforce of more than 75,000 – must respond to these challenges with the necessary speed and the appropriate resources. In other words, the nature of our work at the State Department demands flexibility and adaptability to an ever-changing world. We ask that the Committee keep this in mind as you continue to evaluate proposals for the Authorization Bill.

We also appreciate the great interest and support the Committee has shown to the Department’s efforts to make our programs and organizations more efficient and effective. The cornerstone of this redesign effort has been the input and feedback received from State Department employees.

Our main take away from watching the hearing is that D/Secretary Sullivan is a more personable and reassuring presence when talking about the State Department and USAID. He comes across as a champion of his agency without contradicting his superiors. He sounded reasonable and accommodating to the requests of the senators. At one point during the hearing, Senator Udall (D-NM) complained that he sent the Department a letter asking for specific information but has not received a response in four months. D/Secretary Sullivan quickly apologized, saying this is the first he’s heard of it, and he will make sure it is acted soonest.

There were lots of concern about the reported merger of State and USAID.  D/S Sullivan assured the senators that there is no predetermination in absorbing USAID to State. He also told Senator Menendez that there is no intention to fold USAID into State. He explained that the merger is a proposal made by people outside of the State Department but that there has not been an intention to absorb USAID to State.

He was also asked about the idea floated by the WH of moving CA and PRM functions to DHS. He told the panel that it is not the intent of the Department to move these functions.  He told the senators that it is something that if it were raised, they would  consider it but that it would be from a position that the two are vital to the mission of the State Department. Senator Shaheen (D-NH) informed him that if this  happens, she would be one of those leading the charge against it.

Senator Udall said the panel need significant oversight language in the bill to ensure that Congress has a say on the reorganization at State. Senator Cardin said that he expect State to implement what Congress has authorized and wanted some some assurance that when Congress passes the appropriation and authorization that it would be carried out. D/S Sullivan assured him that his agency will comply with the law, execute the law, and follow the instructions of Congress.

Special envoys is a big topic for the panel. Apparently there are about 68 special envoys; of that 7 are permissive positions (Congress uses may instead of shall) and 11 are mandated positions.  The senators worry that they all come with large staff. One senator wanted to know — if Congress is the authorizing body, do they have to put these positions in a statute? And should the Senate provide advice and consent for all of them. Senator Corker notes that despite the complaints about the multiple special envoys, Secretary Tillerson had recently appointed a Special Envoy for Ukraine. He notes that if we have somebody working on policy that the individual should go through confirmation.

In addition to the budget request and the reorganization, other topics discussed include diversity, employee welfare (Mission Juba got a mention from Senator Coons), Global Engagement Center (a mention from Senator Portman), morale problems and isolated leadership (Senator Udall’s concerns), hiring freeze, and the Russian diplomatic properties.

Senator Corker closed the meeting with a compliment for D/S Sullivan about the latter bringing a lot to the Department at the time when it is most needed.

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