Report: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Lacks Authority to Fire a Political Appointee #DeptofSwagger

 

Foreign Policy recently reported on a State Department town hall meeting where Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan “acknowledged having failed to act more vigorously to shield State Department staffers from retaliation by the Trump administration for their perceived political views” and reportedly said that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lacked the authority to fire a top Trump political appointee accused of inflicting, or abetting, the alleged harassment. (See State Department Failed to Shield Its Diplomats From Political Reprisals, Officials Concede; also Workplace Horror Award Goes to the IO Bureau, @StateDept Offers Counseling in Uppercase Voice).
Most notable items from the report:
— Deputy Secretary Sullivan and P’s David Hale “acknowledged shortcomings in their response and pledged to make amends for staffers whose careers were upended in a long-running controversy that triggered an investigation by the department’s inspector general.”
— “I will be the first to admit the failure on my part to have done more to address the situation,” Sullivan told the gathering, according to an account of the meeting relayed to Foreign Policy
— Hale encouraged staffers whose careers were damaged as a result of political retaliation to come to him to seek some sort of professional remedy or, if they preferred, to pursue a formal grievance against the department. “I’d like to help; I’d also like people to know they can come to me,” Hale said. He pledged to take their case to the undersecretary of state for management, the director general, or human resources “to make amends.”
— “There’s absolutely no doubt that what was going on was completely unacceptable,” Hale said. “Misconduct is a soft word, frankly, to use for what has occurred.” 
–[M]any of the questions revolved around the fate of Moley and why action had not been taken sooner to discipline him. And some noted that officials in other bureaus of the State Department have been subject to similar mistreatment. […] And other staffers privately expressed skepticism that the State Department’s leadership would hold Moley accountable, noting that Foggy Bottom’s top brass had known about the allegations of political targeting for well over a year and had failed to act swiftly to stop it.
— The “general vibe after the meeting was a mix of bitter disappointment and depression,” one State Department official told Foreign Policy, who was skeptical about assurances that Moley would be reprimanded. “Bottom line here is that there will be NO action taken on Kevin Moley.”
— “The decision to ignore the IG report is devastating,” said another staffer in the bureau. “Ultimately, it renders this kind of vicious political targeting acceptable.”
Perhaps the most shocking thing reportedly said by Deputy Secretary Sullivan:
“The secretary can’t fire an assistant secretary appointed by a president, so it adds a layer of complexity there,” Sullivan said.
*
Well, first, this individual is not the only non-career official appointed by the president.  According to AFSA, the State Department has 74 political ambassadors (or 45.4% ) appointed by Trump, and confirmed by the Senate. In addition, there are 55 senior officials in Foggy Bottom where 50 of them (or 90.9%) are also political appointees; almost all of them were presidentially appointed and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
So, we’d like to understand what Sullivan told State Department employees actually means. If Secretary Pompeo cannot fire an assistant secretary appointed by a president, does this mean, he cannot fire any of the politically appointed senior officials and political ambassadors working for him? Those are his highest ranking officials. They are appointed by the president but they do not report to the president or the White House but to the secretary of state.  How can the secretary manage his agency without authority to, as the FAM likes to put it, “promote the efficiency of the Service?”
Good gracious! Who, pray tell, can the Secretary of State fire?
Second, when Sullivan says “The secretary can’t fire an assistant secretary appointed by a president” does this mean Pompeo is not allowed to do so, or was told not to do it (base on what law or regulations exactly?). Or is it that the secretary is using his discretion as agency head not to fire this one individual?
As often the case these days, we’re quite perplexed about this reported excuse. The deputy secretary appears to be making a rather sweeping statement here, not just with this secretary, and not just with this assistant secretary or this president: “The secretary can’t fire an assistant secretary appointed by a president.”
Remember Elizabeth Tamposi?  She was Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs  from 1989 – 1992 during the George H. W. Bush Administration.  She was a political appointee. Her tenure is noted for the scandal related to the search of passport records of then presidential candidates Bill Clinton and Ross Perot  (see Throwback Thursday: An Election, an FOIA, and @StateDept in the Eye of the Storm). She was dismissed by acting Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger.
An acting Secretary of State fired an assistant secretary of state appointed by a president, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Remember Secretary Colin Powell and Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Mary Ryan? She was a widely respected career employee, and the “only U.S. government official to be fired as a consequence of the worst attack ever on U.S. soil” (see Remembering Mary Ryan, FSJ, June 2010)? The secretary of state fired a Senate-confirmed appointee of President George W. Bush. There was apparently another assistant secretary fired by Secretary Powell but we could not find a publicly available citation, so we’re leaving that out.
During the fallout from the Benghazi attack, the assistant secretary, principal deputy, and deputy assistant secretary all lost their jobs in Diplomatic Security. In the NEA bureau, one deputy assistant secretary lost his job; his firing reportedly ordered by the State Department counselor. This report says that then Secretary Clinton accepted the resignation of the DS assistant secretary. Whether “S” or “M” made the decision concerning the departure of the DS assistant secretary is not clear, but somebody in Foggy Bottom had the authority to do it.
In recent years, there were also very public departures by political ambassadors to Luxembourg, Kenya, and Malta; all were presidentially nominated and Senate confirmed.
Now, we have the Deputy Secretary of State telling employees that their agency head lacks this authority; an authority which has clearly been exercised by previous secretaries of state several times in the past, in very public ways. So this is mighty confusing for your poor blogger who can’t make sense of the goings on there.
We do want to know where does Sullivan’s “The secretary can’t fire an assistant secretary appointed by a president” excuse come from. We think this has implications not just for this secretary and the agency going forward but potentially for future secretaries of state. 

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Workplace Horror Award Goes to the IO Bureau, @StateDept Offers Counseling in Uppercase Voice

 

Where do you even start with this bonkers IO report from the State Department Inspector General? Congrats?
Well, then, felicitations and congratulations to the Bureau of International Organization Affairs and its leadership for getting the Workplace Horror Award!
Given the lack of meaningful action from the 7th Floor following this report, perhaps we should borrow Secretary Pompeo’s “Miles With Mike” signoff and send “Keep crushing it!” wishes to everyone, too.
Bear it, and swagger, there’s an Ethos Award at the end of the rainbow.
But really, Secretary Pompeo should stop talking about his professional ethos initiative because, to put it mildly, this report ruins it loudly, particularly the parts about showing “unstinting respect in word and deed for my colleagues and all who serve alongside me” and taking “ownership of and responsibility” of something, something stuff.
As Nero Wolfe would say, “Pfui!”

Short Take: BAD, ALL CAPS

Update at 10:08 am: Added the DOS swagger seal

 State/OIG began this review in July 2018 by examining whether the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO) officials had acted improperly toward career officials on the basis of their perceived political or ideological views.
Just reading the report makes us want to drown our sorrows in vats of grapes, wine, rum, etc.,  Don’t worry, we’re allergic to alcohol but if we could, we would. This is painful to read, but can you imagine the people living through this?
Has anyone heard from AFSA?
Read the full report here.  A few excerpts below:

“OIG found evidence of leadership and management deficiencies and mistreatment of career employees in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO). These inappropriate practices included disrespectful and hostile treatment of employees, accusations against and harassment of career employees premised on claims that they were “disloyal” based on their perceived political views, and retaliation associated with conflicts of interest. OIG also found that numerous employees raised concerns about the IO leadership to Department management officials outside of IO and that Department officials counseled IO leadership; however, the Assistant Secretary for IO, Kevin Moley, did not take significant action to respond to such concerns.

During the course of this review, OIG received allegations that two personnel actions were undertaken by IO leadership for improper motives: the removal of the IO Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS), a career senior foreign service officer, and the cancellation of the selection process for a career position in the IO Office of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. OIG found evidence that both actions by IO leadership were likely based on non-merit factors and thus violated Department policy.”

Staff Departures Set a Record in Our Books

Approximately 50 of 300 domestic IO employees have departed IO! Darnit, that’s quite a record that will be in our books for quite a while. Well, actually, maybe in our books until we see the next IG report focused on the Secretary’s office. That could be record-breaking, too, in terms of how many people departed the State Department starting at the dawn of Tillerson’s tenure. Alas, we’d also like to know who did what to whom, to the Senate-confirmed DGHR and others, who thought it was a great idea to double the stress and double the fun at the Ops Center, and other stuff… we can wait.

“In 2018, IO had 239 civil service positions and 71 domestic Foreign Service positions. Assistant Secretary Moley began his tenure in IO in April 2018. The IO Bureau also has four Deputy Assistant Secretary positions, one of which is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS). In April 2018, all Deputy Assistant Secretary positions were held by career employees. During Assistant Secretary Moley’s tenure, three individuals have served as PDAS: the first, whose reassignment is described on page 14 below, served until June 2018; the second served from August to October 2018; and the third has served since November 2018.
[…]
Approximately 50 of 300 domestic IO employees have departed IO since Assistant Secretary Moley took over its leadership, and nearly all of the former employees who OIG interviewed stated that poor leadership of the bureau contributed to their decision to depart.”

 

When the OIG Rings the Fire Alarm and …

Image via Giphy

The OIG report paints in great details the leadership deficiencies and mistreatment of career employees; the disrespectful and hostile treatment of employees; the unmerited accusations of disloyalty and harassment based on perceived political views; retaliation based upon conflicts of interest; and failure of bureau leadership to respond to concerns expressed by employees, and expressed by Department management.

“OIG found significant evidence of systemic deficiencies in leadership and management relating to the treatment of career employees, as well as evidence that non-merit-based considerations played a role in at least two personnel decisions. Several employees raised concerns relating to disrespectful and hostile treatment of staff, inappropriate accusations of disloyalty and harassment of employees based on perceived political views, and retaliation based on conflicts of interest. Furthermore, despite being counseled by Department management regarding some of these issues, IO leadership has not adequately addressed these concerns. Such conduct conflicts with the Department’s leadership principles, which set expectations that its management will strive for a collaborative, respectful, and inclusive workplace. Moreover, these failures of leadership have led to serious morale problems in IO and to the departure of a significant number of career staff. OIG encourages the Department to take action to address these concerns promptly.”

On the two personnel actions undertaken by Assistant Secretary Moley and Ms. Stull, the OIG report notes the following:

“The circumstances of Assistant Secretary Moley’s removal of the PDAS suggests that he undertook a personnel action based on non-merit factors, namely, her articulation of concerns about Ms. Stull’s conduct. In addition, her removal raises questions regarding compliance with the Department’s non-retaliation policy because the concerns that she brought to Assistant Secretary Moley, Under Secretary Shannon, and Deputy Secretary Sullivan could evidence the violation of a law, rule, or regulation.
[…]
Ms. Stull’s instruction to the human resources officials that future vacancies reflect the President’s agenda and beliefs was inappropriate for career positions and reflects an intent to introduce non-merit factors into the IO hiring process. Based on this evidence, Assistant Secretary Moley and Ms. Stull appear to have violated Department prohibitions on using non-merit factors in personnel assignments.

The State Department Passes the Buck ..er Alarm

The OIG made two recommendations to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs: to develop a corrective action plan to address the leadership and management deficiencies within the Bureau of International Organization Affairs and to consider other appropriate action, including disciplinary action. The Department concurred with both recommendations.
Now for the funny part (but don’t laugh).
The State Department told the OIG that “The Department noted that two IO officials are named in the report, but one of them is no longer employed by the Department and therefore not subject to any disciplinary action. The remaining official has already been counseled regarding his leadership, and the Department will consider additional discipline based on OIG’s “assessment” of the response from Assistant Secretary Moley.”
Oh, dahrlings, the State Department wants the IG to do the Department’s job! Looks like the decision on what to do with IO is beyond OIG, or “P” or “M” or “D” but sits on Secretary Pompeo’s desk.
Also how soon before we’re going to start seeing this case  as a comparator in grievance cases? “I only screamed once and I apologized, and two people curtailed from post during my tenure. The proposal to suspend me for three days is not fair given similar cases at the agency. For example, the IG report on IO …” or something like that…

Yes, Your Concerns Are Pointless: True as the Sky is Blue

(and the State Department Offers More Counseling)

Below excerpted from the OIG report:
  • [I]n his interview with OIG, Assistant Secretary Moley was dismissive of the counseling he received from senior Department leaders. He cited other senior government positions he held in the past and expressed his opinion that individuals such as Acting Director General Todd were in no position to give him advice.
  • On June 25, 2018, Deputy Secretary John Sullivan met with Assistant Secretary Moley to discuss the comments and the general atmosphere in IO. According to Deputy Secretary Sullivan, Assistant Secretary Moley responded that IO employees were misinterpreting his and Ms. Stull’s actions and were over-reacting. Also, on June 25, Deputy Secretary Sullivan and then-Legal Adviser Jennifer Newstead counseled Ms. Stull on her treatment of employees.
  • Despite these counseling efforts, multiple witnesses told OIG that the hostile treatment and other conduct described above continued into the fall of 2018, and some of the notable examples described above occurred after Assistant Secretary Moley’s June 2018 meeting with the Deputy Secretary.
  • Several employees told OIG that they approached the Assistant Secretary at various times with concerns about treatment of employees and management of the bureau. These employees consistently reported to OIG that Assistant Secretary Moley reacted negatively when employees brought concerns to him and that, rather than addressing the issue directly, he tended to minimize the concern or place blame on others.
  • Similarly, when individuals raised concerns with Ms. Stull about her treatment of employees, she asserted that she was herself the victim of harassment and informed at least one employee that raising such concerns was pointless because the Trump administration “has my back.”
  • Beginning in late April 2018, a succession of increasingly more senior Department officials shared concerns they had received regarding the leadership and management of IO directly with Assistant Secretary Moley. However, OIG found that Assistant Secretary Moley did not undertake any meaningful efforts to address these concerns. Furthermore, in the course of this review, OIG continued to receive accounts of the same type of conduct against which the Assistant Secretary had been counseled, such as hostile treatment of employees, allegations of disloyalty, and conflicts of interest.
  • Then-Under Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon met with Assistant Secretary Moley to discuss concerns about management of the bureau that Under Secretary Shannon had heard from several IO employees. Under Secretary Shannon told OIG that he reminded Assistant Secretary Moley that his first responsibility is to the Secretary and that he put himself at risk by not exercising leadership and granting Ms. Stull an “unprecedented level of independence” to manage the bureau, especially during the critical period before UNGA. Under Secretary Shannon advised against managing the bureau by intimidating staff and questioning their loyalties.
  • On June 13, 2018, Acting Under Secretary Mull contacted Assistant Secretary Moley and recounted these concerns, including an email exchange that the Assistant Secretary had with a junior desk officer,30 the reported imminent departure of several members of IO’s senior staff, and general reports that he was “targeting” career civil service and Foreign Service officers. Acting Under Secretary Mull advised Assistant Secretary Moley that such reports were “embarrassing” to the Secretary and ran counter to his priority of lifting morale and forging a better sense of teamwork. Acting Under Secretary Mull directed him to take several steps [snip].

Quick Test: Compare and Contrast

Via Imgur

We should note that former S/P Kiron Skinner who was reportedly fired for her “abusive” management style did not oversee close to 300 people but a couple dozens (see @StateDept Policy Planning’s Kiron Skinner Reportedly Out Over “Abusive” Management Style).  Not to minimized the issues at S/P where some staffers reportedly left and five more threatened to quit according to Politico, that’s still less than the approximately 50 departures  cited by OIG from the IO bureau.  Good grief!
Yes, we are pointing out that the State Department is inviting criticism of contrasting treatment between these two offices: one managed by an African-American woman who was reportedly fired amidst allegations of bad management (but no IG investigation), and another managed by a white American male who was given repeated counseling amidst allegations of bad management and mass staff departures (despite an IG investigation). Any “unusually candid” official out there willing to explain this, we’re all ears.

 

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Confirmations: Trujillo, Pence, Prado, Traina, Moley, Royce, and More

Posted: 12:04 am  ET

 

Late on March 22, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following executive nominations for the State Department, the Peace Corps, and a few other reps for international banks:

Exec. Cal. #616 Carlos Trujillo, of Florida, to be Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the Organization of American States
Exec. Cal. #752 – Robert Frank Pence, of Virginia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Finland
Exec. Cal. #753 – Edward Charles Prado, of Texas, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Argentine Republic
Exec. Cal. #754 – Trevor D. Traina, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Austria
Exec. Cal. #759 – Kevin Edward Moley, of Arizona, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (International Organization Affairs)

Exec. Cal. #761 – Marie Royce, of California, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Educational and Cultural Affairs)

Also confirmed:

PEACE CORPS
Exec. Cal. #760 – Josephine Olsen, of Maryland, to be Director of the Peace Corps

EUROPEAN BANK FOR RECONSTRUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT

Exec. Cal. #330 Steven T. Mnuchin – to be United States Governor of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, United States Governor of the African Development Fund, and United States Governor of the Asian Development Bank.

Exec. Cal. #756 – Judy Lynn Shelton, of Virginia, to be United States Director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND

Exec. Cal. #331 Steven T. Mnuchin – to be United States Governor of the International Monetary Fund, United States Governor of the African Development Bank, United States Governor of the Inter-American Development Bank, and United States Governor of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development for a term of five years.

INTERNATIONAL BANK FOR RECONSTRUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT

Exec. Cal. #755 – Erik Bethel, of Florida, to be United States Alternate Executive Director of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development for a term of two years

The nominee to be U.S. Ambassador to Germany is still stuck in confirmation purgatory:

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