@StateDept Officials on Clinton Private Email Debacle: Yo! Had Been Caught Off Guard? Ay, Caramba!

Posted: 11:25 am EDT
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Excerpt below with annotation:

“When we were asked to help the State Department make sure they had everything from other secretaries of state, not just me, I’m the one who said, ‘Okay, great, I will go through them again,’ ” Clinton said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “And we provided all of them.”

But State Department officials provided new information Tuesday that undercuts Clinton’s characterization. They said the request was not simply about general rec­ord-keeping but was prompted entirely by the discovery that Clinton had exclusively used a private e-mail system. They also said they *first contacted her in the summer of 2014, at least three months before **the agency asked Clinton and three of her predecessors to provide their e-mails.
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She has said repeatedly that it was “permitted” by the State Department and widely known in the Obama administration.

But the early call from the State Department is a sign that, at the least, officials in the agency she led from 2009 to 2013 were concerned by the practice — and that they had been caught off guard upon discovering her exclusive use of a private account.
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***In the spring and summer of 2014, while it was in the process of trying to find records sought by the newly formed House Select Committee on Benghazi, the State Department’s congressional affairs office found Clinton’s personal e-mail address listed on a few records in a batch of Benghazi documents but no government e-mail account for her.

“We realized there was a problem,” said a State Department official who until that moment had not been aware of Clinton’s private e-mail setup. The official, like some others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case.
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The agency is releasing those e-mails in batches, in accordance with a court order stemming from a public-records lawsuit.

The issue has led to frustrations within the State Department in recent months, as some officials have grown tired of having to answer for a political controversy not of their making, according to three senior officials.

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Ay, caramba!

If the State Department had first contacted her in the summer of 2014, we have yet to see that correspondence. It was potentially sent sometime in August 2014, three months before the letters to Clinton and predecessors went out in November 12, 2014 from “M” (see below).  Three months is an early call?  C’mon! Secretary Clinton left State in February 2013.

As to the notion that officials had been “caught off guard” upon discovering her exclusive use of a private account, do spin doctors seriously expect us to buy this on a double discount?

The NYT broke the news that Secretary Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state on March 2, 2015.

It took six months for three senior State Department officials to tell WaPo that they “had been caught off guard” by the secretary of state’s exclusive use of a private account?  These officials “were concerned by the practice”, so much so that they issued a three month-“early call” in the summer of 2014, 1 year and 6 months after the end of the Clinton tenure.  And we’re only hearing about this concern now, 2 years and 7 months after Secretary Clinton left office? Yeah.

Dates of note:

December 11, 2012: NARA Chief Records Officer Paul M. Wester Jr. Email to NARA’s Margaret Hawkins and Lisa Clavelli on how they “should delicately go about learning more” about the transition plans for Secretary Clinton’s departure from State. Concerns that “there are or maybe plans afoot to taking her records from State to Little Rock.” Invokes the specter of the Henry Kissinger experience vis-a-vis Hillary Clinton (view email in pdf). So there were discussions within NARA about the Clinton records as early as December 2012. It appears that NARA’s main contact (pdf) at State is Margaret P. Grafeld, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Global Information Services (A/GIS).It should be interesting to see how or when the Clinton federal records were discussed between NARA and State.

* August 28, 2014: State Department U/S for Management sends memo to department principals on Senior Officials’ Records Management Responsibilities (view memo pdf). See State Department issued instructions for Preserving Email of Departing Senior Officials (view memo p.13 pdf)

** November 12, 2014Letter to Hilary Clinton’s representative, Cheryl Mills re: the Federal Records Act of 1950, November 12, 2014; to Colin Powell, to Condoleezza Rice; to Madeleine Albright;

*** August 11, 2014: The State Department sends its first group of documents to the new Select Benghazi committee, a partial response to a previous subpoena. The production contains a few — less than 10 — emails either to or from Clinton. Committee staffers notice immediately that the emails are from a previously unseen address, hdr22@clintonemail.com. Meanwhile, the committee presses State to meet its legal obligation to fully respond to the pair of subpoenas originally issued in August 2013. (Via Washington Examiner)

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Senators Seek to INTVW @StateDept CIO Taylor; Wait, Wasn’t He Overseas When Pagliano Was Hired?

Posted: 3:05 am EDT
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Two Senate chairmen are pressing the State Department for more information about the staffer who maintained Hillary Clinton’s controversial email server, including requesting an audience with his former supervisor.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked that Steven Taylor, State’s chief information officer, sit for a closed-door interview about the duties of his former subordinate Bryan Pagliano, according to a letter the senators sent to Secretary of State John Kerry.
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Mr. Taylor is a member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor. He has been the Chief Information Officer of the State Department since April 3, 2013. He was previously appointed as Acting CIO on August 1, 2012. Preceding his assignment as CIO, he was the Department’s Deputy Chief Information Officer (DCIO) and Chief Technology Officer of Operations from June, 2011.

We should note that Secretary Clinton left the State Department on February 1, 2013, two months before Mr. Taylor was appointed CIO. In fact, according to this official biography, prior to his DCIO assignment in 2011, he served as Management Counselor in Cairo and Athens. So we’re guessing that between 2005 to 2011, this poor man was posted overseas and nowhere near the hiring desk when Mr. Pagliano was brought into the IT bureau of the State Department in 2009.

Not that it’s going to matter. The senators will probably drag Mr. Taylor before a closed-door interview still the same. Pagliano joined the State Department in May 2009. Maybe the senators should try the Bureau of Human Resources for their hiring and work duties questions?

Foggy Bottom’s Email Debacle Spreads Beyond Clinton Inner Circle

We don’t think this is going to stop at Mr. Taylor.  On September 14, conservative group Judicial Watch has also released a heavily redacted email, obtained through its FOIA lawsuit, between State Department official Eric F. Stein and Margaret P. Grafeld, dated April 21, 2015, with the subject “HRC Emails.”  Stein is deputy director of Global Information Systems (GIS) at the State Department and Grafeld is deputy assistant secretary of Global Information Systems (GIS). Stein reports to Grafeld that the “gaps” in Clinton’s emails include:

  • Jan. 21 – March 17, 2009 (Received Messages)
  • Jan. 21 – April 12, 2009 (Sent Messages)
  • Dec. 30, 2012 – Feb. 1, 2013 (Sent Messages)

Screen Shot 2015-09-15

On September 14, the State Department spox was asked about these gaps during the DPB and he maintained that there is no gap. Here is the exchange:

QUESTION: There was a release today by Judicial Watch from its lawsuit, and it cited several email gaps it claims existed in the former secretary’s list of ledger – full ledger of work-related correspondence.

MR KIRBY: Yep, seen the press report, Brad. We’re not aware of any gaps in the Clinton emails set with the exception of the first few months of her tenure when Secretary Clinton used a different email account that she has already advised she no longer has access to. And as I understand it, Secretary Clinton’s representatives have publicly stated that she used a separate email account in those first few months of her tenure. But beyond that, there’s no gap that we have seen or are aware of in Secretary Clinton’s email messages.

QUESTION: In that early part, you mentioned there was a gap of, I think, one month before – from the first received email to the first sent email. Now, I realize it’s fully possible she didn’t send an email that was work-related in that first month – that first month when she had that account, but is that your understanding or is that still an incomplete – you’re still fully researching all of those emails or unearthing them?

MR KIRBY: I know of no research attempt to deal with those first few months, Brad, because, as I said, former Secretary Clinton’s representatives already indicated that they were aware this gap existed and that she had – no longer had access to them. So it’s difficult if not impossible to do any particular research or forensics to get at those first few months. And as for how many were sent and received in that timeframe, I just don’t know. But this is not something that hasn’t been addressed before by her representatives. And beyond that first couple of months, those first four months, we have seen no gaps.

QUESTION: And in the last part of – in the last part of her tenure, there was what they cited was another gap in January 2013, which I’m guessing you’re saying is not a gap, in fact.

MR KIRBY: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Can you – they produced an email which showed an official saying there’s a gap or listing it as a gap. Do you understand what happened? Were those emails then later recovered or found?

MR KIRBY: Right. So we continue to maintain there’s no gap. I think you’re talking about this period of December 2012 through the end of January 2013.

QUESTION: Right.

MR KIRBY: And upon further review – so originally when they all came in, a cursory sort of preliminary look, a very quick look at the documents by an official here at the State Department revealed a potential gap of about a month or so in emails. But in going through them in a more fulsome manner after that, we’ve determined that in fact, there was no gap – that that time period is covered quite well by the emails that have been provided.

QUESTION: So you have emails from that period and —

MR KIRBY: We do.

QUESTION: — when you get to that point, they’ll be public.

MR KIRBY: We do, and I think you will continue to see – and we’ve been roughly rolling these out – roughly temporally and you will see – as we get to the remainder of the tranches, that you will see emails that were sent and received during that December ’12 to January ’13 timeframe.

That’s not going to end there.  The “gaps” will be too tantalizing to ignore.

This email released by Judicial Watch also includes a few more names, including Richard C. Visek, the State Department’s Deputy Legal Adviser and also the Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO). We suspect that it’s only be a matter of time before the somebodies in Congress would request the official apperance and interview with Margaret P. Grafeld, Eric F. Stein, and heaven knows, who else.

Related item:

State Dept FOIA Requests: Agency Ranks Second in Highest Backlog and Here’s Why

State/OIG recently published its inspection of the Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS) located in the Bureau of Administration.   IPS is responsible for the Department’s records management and related technologies, including public access to information under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, privacy information and protection and classification management and review, including declassification. The IPS office according to the OIG inspectors has no overseas locations. A director leads a staff of 358 employees, including 152 Civil Service employees, 184 when actually employed (WAE) staff members, and 22 student interns.

The OIG notes that IPS plays a critical role in the Department’s communication with the public:

“By providing citizens access to the Department’s records, the office is instrumental in maintaining openness and transparency in the conduct of foreign affairs.”

Openness and transparency okay but nothing about promptness

“The Department’s FOIA process is inefficient and ineffective. IPS’s backlog of 6,950 cases continues to grow. A relatively small staff is processing the heavy volume of requests and dealing with new software. Delays in responses from other bureaus, offices, and agencies contribute to the problem. The Department receives among the highest number of FOIA requests in the U.S. Government. In FY 2011, IPS reported that it received 14,262 requests, in addition to the 21,252 requests already pending at the beginning of the year. IPS employees processed 26,802 requests during the year, leaving 8,712 pending. IPS reported that in FY 2011, the average number of days to process simple cases was 156; for complex cases, 342. Some cases have been pending for 5 or 6 years.”

According to http://www.foia.gov/ the State Department is second only to DHS in its ranking of federal agencies with the highest FOIA request backlog.  State/IPS average response time to a simple FOIA request in FY2011 is 156 days, its highest number of days to respond is 1,603.  The highest response time for complex cases is 2,460 days and for expedited cases is 1,802 days.

POGO points out that it takes State and USAID “on average seven times longer to process a simple FOIA request than the 20-day legal limit for simple requests” because as “they have to gather records from “hundreds of posts throughout the world” and “missions in over 80 countries.”

If it would make you feel better, click here for the Department of State FOIA Backlog Reduction Plan way back in 2008 with colorful graphics.

Below are some of the OIG report’s key judgments:

  • Leadership and management practices contribute to problematic morale and poor communication across the Bureau of Administration, Global Information Services, Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS). Management controls in IPS are insufficient, indicating leadership and management deficiencies in many parts of the organization.
  • The main responsibilities of IPS include managing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and declassification programs, administering the Privacy Act, and conducting records management. Lack of cooperation from the Department of State (Department) and internal weakness hamper IPS’s performance of these duties.
  • IPS handles one of the largest FOIA workloads in the Federal Government. However, IPS’s lack of a sound process to develop its information systems led to delayed and flawed deployment of the Freedom of Information Document Managing System 2 (FREEDOMS 2), IPS’s key software for managing cases, resulting in significant backlogs.

This is the same system that State’s Annual FOIA Report dated March 2012 says is “designed to more efficiently and effectively perform case processing functions.”

State’s Chief FOIA Officer is Joyce Barr, the Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of Administration. IPS is headed by Deputy Assistant Secretary Margaret P. Grafeld who assumed post on September 2010. The director and deputy director of IPS are Sheryl L. Walter and Alex Galovich respectively.

The little devils in the fine details

  • Personnel in Department bureaus who serve as liaisons to IPS are normally staff assistants or others for whom FOIA responsibilities are a small part of their job. Their lack of responsiveness indicates that performance in handling FOIA requests is not a significant factor their evaluations. Even if it were, the Department has not developed performance standards for responding to IPS’s requests for documents. IPS does not report to the upper levels of the Department about the responsiveness of bureaus and embassies on FOIA. To improve the Department’s FOIA performance, the Department must fix responsibility at all stages of the process.
  • Persistent neglect of fundamental leadership responsibilities and management practices has had profound consequences in IPS. The OIG team’s observations, discussions with IPS staff, and the responses to OIG’s questionnaires indicated an office with problematic morale, perceptions of favoritism, micromanagement practices, and confused lines of authority. Inspectors found failures of communication, lack of training, questionable staffing decisions, and poor time and attendance record keeping. IPS’s new director is just beginning to address the many challenges that she faces.  Many suggest that poor morale stems from frequently changing priorities and excessive workload. REDACTED
  • Communication among all levels of IPS staff is poor. Division chiefs are located on the same floor in order to strengthen communication within higher-level management. This physical arrangement limits managers from seeing what their employees are doing on a daily basis, however. IPS leadership told the OIG team that they plan to change this arrangement with the building renovation, currently in process, which will colocate managers with members of their staff.

Is it just us or does it seem like when there is a negative report, things are often just in the cusp or the verge of change?  Apparently a new director is addressing the problem and the office’s physical arrangements will be changed with the building renovation.  Which should happen soon.


Despite the huge backlog, staffers go on excursion tours … to Brazil …to Brazil

“IPS recently allowed several staffers who process FOIA requests to take excursion tours in Brazil to assist in visa processing. At a time when IPS has a large backlog of cases, it is unwise to divert staff to other duties.”

In her Chief FOIA Officer March 12, 2012 Annual Report, Ms. Barr reports that “Comprehensive quarterly training is provided to employees who review documents in response to FOIA requests.” And that “Staffing has remained the same. Any vacant positions were filled during the year.”

The OIG report on staff development, training, staffing gaps

  • IPS management has not made staff development a priority because of the heavy workload. Some employees noted that the only training they have received during their tenure in IPS is on-the-job training and that they receive minimal constructive feedback regarding performance.
  • IPS does not have a plan to manage retirements and fill vacancies promptly. Since 2009, 69 employees have retired or resigned. Three division head positions and one branch chief position were vacant at the time of the inspection, one since 2007. The deputy director, in addition to his other duties, serves as acting head for all of those offices. This situation is unacceptable. These offices handle a significant part of the workload for IPS and require consistent, full-time leadership. However, IPS used funding for these positions to hire new full-time equivalents at lower grades.

All together now — Sister Sledge sings “We are family ….”

  • IPS employs an unusually large percentage of WAEs and contractors. The presence of these experienced employees, who work under a flexible system, is a source of strength to the organization. However, the OIG team identified multiple occasions when WAEs reached their hour or salary caps, and IPS rehired them under a contract so that they could continue performing the same work. It is not permissible for an employee on a temporary appointment who reaches his or her hourly or salary cap to continue work as a contractor performing the same duties.10 This practice can result in violations of Federal employee ethical standards and related criminal laws.
  • At the time of the inspection, three former deputy directors and one former senior advisor of IPS were working as contractors. The common perception among IPS staff is that only certain employees are provided this opportunity. The OIG team found several cases of immediate family members of IPS employees working in the office. Several employees raised the issue of nepotism in questionnaires or interviews with inspectors, and staff thought that family members have an advantage in the office. Some of these same family members were interns in the IPS student program before they received a full-time position with the Department.

Trickle up Awards Program Sounds Familiar?

  • IPS has an active awards program, but many employees noted that its implementation appears unfair. A few upper-level management employees appeared to receive consistent high-dollar cash awards in the past 3 years, but division staff at lower grade levels did not receive corresponding amounts. According to staff members, many believe that only a select group of individuals in IPS receives awards each year.

More not so fun details:

  • Many position descriptions have not been updated recently, with some dating from 1990.
  • IPS cannot identify how many records the Department creates.
  • IPS cannot account for hard-copy records that domestic bureaus and overseas posts should be sending on a regular basis to the records service center.
  • Despite the large number of hard-copy documents IPS reproduces, the office lacks copy machines that can handle the volume required.
  • In the absence of an accurate inventory, AAS was only able to estimate the levels of idle equipment as between 70 and 125 workstations.
  • SMART [State Messaging and Archival Retrieval Toolset] captured 61,156 of an estimated 15 million record emails in the system that should be captured.
  • An estimated 13,000 cubic feet of retired records are past due for destruction.
  • IPS issues office-specific security badges to its own employees […] Issuance of the IPS-specific badges is excessive and a waste of resources.

The Chief FOIA Officer reports that “Due to its global structure and the nature of its record holdings, the Department faces great challenges in achieving full compliance with the time limits of the FOIA.”  But don’t you worry, she insists in her annual report that “it remains committed to achieving the fullest possible compliance, with the greatest level of customer service.”

Related items:

Inspection of the Bureau of Administration, Global Information Services, Office of Information Programs and Services Report Number ISP-I-12-54, September 2012

State Department Chief Freedom of Information Act Officer Annual Report | March 12, 2012