Senators Seek Review/Analysis of @StateDept and @USAID Sexual Harassment and Assault Data

Posted: 2:29 am ET

 

U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Ranking Member of the SFRC Subcommittee on State Department and USAID Management, led the Committee’s Democrats in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and USAID Administrator Mark Green on January 17, requesting a review and analysis of data to better understand the scope of sexual harassment and assault issues at the Department and Agency, in order to consider appropriate policy changes to address the problems.

ABOUT TIME.

Note that back in September 2016,  this blog wanted to know the statistics on sexual assault in the Foreign Service, specifically in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2003. We were also interested in overall statistics on sexual assault in the Foreign Service worldwide, during the last 10 years. We did not ask for names, only numbers. We simply asked for an accounting of sexual assault reports since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to the present, and the worldwide number of reports spanning over 280 overseas posts in the last 10 years. We were sure the data must be available somewhere. How could it not?

This was the State Department’s official response at that time:

“The Office of Special Investigations receives and catalogues allegations and complaints. Allegations are neither categorized by location nor by alleged offense.”

That remains a shocking response.

Without looking at their data by location and offense, or for that matter by individuals accused, how is the State Department to know when there are serial offenders in its ranks? (See The State Dept’s Sexual Assault Reporting Procedure Appears to Be a Black Hole of Grief).

In its 4th Quarter 2017 report for period ending September 30, 2017, the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) does have some information on Equal Employment Opportunity Data required by the No Fear Act.  The public report indicates that reprisal is the number one complaint by basis in FY2017.  Non-sexual harassment went from 72 complaints in 2016 to 103 at the end of FY2017. The comparative report notes 3 complaints of sexual harassment in 2016 and 6 complaints at end of FY2017.

The average number of days in investigation? 207.17 days.

Total Findings of Discrimination after a hearing for sexual harassment? Zero. In 2012.

Also zero in 2013, in 2014, in 2015, in 2016, and through the end of FY2017. Zero.

Apparently, S/OCR does not also count cases reversed by the EEOC like that 2016 case where S/OCR did not find sexual harassment but where the EEOC decided that the complainant was indeed subjected to sexual harassment and ordered the State Department to take remedial actions (see @StateDept to Hold “Harassment in the Workplace” Session But First, Read This FSI Sexual Harassment Case).

S/OCR was recently a presenter in a State Department Q&A session “Should I Report That? How (and when) to Report Workplace Conflict, Harassment & Bias in the Department”.

To read more about our previous posts on sexual assault, click here; for sexual harassment, click here.

Below is the text of the letter to Secretary Tillerson and USAID Administrator Mark Green:

We write to draw to your attention the November 28, 2017 letter signed by over 200 national security professionals who have served, often with distinction, in the State Department, the intelligence community, USAID, and the Pentagon about their experiences of (or serving as witnesses to) incidents of sexual harassment or sexual assault inside our national security bureaucracies.

This letter speaks to what we believe remains a critical issue that too many of our national security institutions have been too slow to address: sexual assault and harassment and its effects on the professionalism and effective functioning of those institutions. These incidents and the pervasive culture that all too frequently excuses these behaviors and actions have had serious and detrimental consequences for the careers and lives of those affected – and by depriving the United States of the service of some of our best and brightest, a deep and negative effect on our national security.

To better address this issue, we would urge you to provide the Foreign Relations Committee a review of your current methods for data collection, oversight, reporting structure, victim protections, analysis and anti-sexual harassment training, including employee feedback on these mechanisms and how they are being implemented. In our oversight capacity, we hope to work with you, to review and analyze the data to better understand the scope of the problem we confront as we consider appropriate policy changes to address it.

The November 28 letter contends that training is all too often “erratic” and “irregular,” and that policies often go unnoticed among staff. In our experiences serving on the oversight committee with responsibilities for the Department of State and USAID we concur with this contention. We would urge that you pay special attention to whether anti-harassment training is adequate, how it is implemented, and how it is enforced, in your respective reviews. We also urge you to examine your procedures for disciplinary actions to ensure that those who demonstrate improper behavior are held accountable for their actions.

The letter also calls for a number of reforms including a clear indication that national security leadership will not tolerate certain behavior, ensuring the full accessibility and functioning of “multiple, clear, private” channels to report abuse without fear of retribution, and ensuring sufficiently regular, mandatory, and instructive training for employees and contractors. We would be interested in your thoughts and comments on these potential areas for reform.

We also urge that you each take the opportunity to work with us to determine what additional resources are necessary to ensure that each report and allegation receives proper attention, that your offices are collecting all the relevant data, that cases are addressed in a timely and confidential fashion, and that training is fully implemented across the State and USAID workforce.

At a moment in our country when we are being reminded anew of the scope and challenge of sexual harassment in the workplace, we are rededicating ourselves here in the Senate to addressing this issue in our own ranks. The Legislative branch faces similar challenges and that while we work to address them, we expect the same from executive branch agencies. For our part, in addition to exploring appropriate oversight and legislative action to ensure that you have the resources and focus that you need to address these issues, we also intend to place additional emphasis on these issues in the confirmation process. We intend to ensure that nominees live up to the highest standards of behavior, and will seek commitments regarding how they intend to address sexual harassment and assault if they are confirmed.

Lastly, we note that the abuses, harassment and assaults noted in the November 28 letter are enabled by an environment in which the diversity of our nation – one of our “secret weapons” and competitive advantages as a nation – is not reflected in the national security workforce. This is especially true at the senior levels. At the State Department, for example, women and men enter the Foreign Service in roughly comparable numbers, but only about one-third of our senior Foreign Service Officers are women. Although women comprise a majority of the Civil Service, the Senior Executive Service remains 61% male and 89% white. Similarly disturbing trends come to light when analyzing the salaries, bonuses and expectations of workplace behavior amongst men and women working in national security roles. We still have a long way to go on gender equality in the national security workforce, and encourage you to share with us as well your vision for how you plan to address deficiencies in recruitment, retention and promotion to assure that your national security workforce is equitably balanced.

The members of our national security workforce should not be forced to spend their time and energy combatting harassment and a culture of tolerance for disrespectful behavior. Rather, they should be free to focus on what they do best – working to keep our nation safe. And we know from numerous studies that a more diverse workforce leads to better outcomes. A 2015 McKinsey study found that a more diverse workforce is more successful through improved decision-making, leadership, and financial progress. We know that to be true in the private sector and we know that to be true for government as well.

Mindful that there are myriad challenges and opportunities to better address sexual harassment in the workplace we do not seek nor do we expect you to develop a cookie-cutter approach to these issues. Rather, we call on you to respect the dignity of each member of our national security workforce by ensuring an environment in which each individual is capable of fully contributing his or her talents to our national security, without obstruction.

The original text of letter is posted here.

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USAID Anticipates @StateDept Hiring Freeze Will Last At Least Through End of FY2018

Posted: 1:52 am ET

 

Secretary Tillerson is scheduled to hold a Town Hall at the State Department on Tuesday, December 12, 2017, at 10:00 a.m. EST in the Dean Acheson Auditorium. According to the notice that went out, the Secretary “will provide an overview of the past year and will discuss how the Redesign will better enable you to do our job going forward.”  Questions are pre-screened. Employees interested in asking the Secretary a question, are asked to submit them by noon EST on Monday, December 11, 2017.

Employees are instructed to plan on arriving between 9:15 a.m.- 9:45 a.m. as seating in the Dean Acheson Auditorium is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. There will be overflow seating in the Loy Henderson Conference Room. For those unable to attend, the event will be carried live on BNET.

Meanwhile, we’ve learned that USAID had informed Congress that the State Department hiring freeze “remains in effect” and anticipates that “it will last at least until the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2018” (end of fiscal year 2018 is September 30, 2018).

We have reported previously that USAID also told Congress that it is considering whether to seek waivers from the Secretary of State to fill additional positions “aligned with future workforce needs that are in line with the Redesign and the Administration’s policies.”  As of late November, it has yet to make a determination whether these USAID FSO positions “could qualify for an exception based on the national security criteria.” (see USAID Reinstates Pre-Employment Status of FSO Candidates After Congressional Interest).

The agency told Congress that it is authorized to employ “up to 1,850” Foreign Service officers. In 2017, it hired five (5) Payne Fellows as FSOs under the Congressionally-mandated fellowship, and filled eighteen (18) Foreign Service Limited (FSL) positions. FSL positions are non-career appointments hired for specific appointments. These are time limited and are reportedly not subject to the hiring freeze. Incumbent to these position do not receive credit toward any FS requirement if they are FSO candidates.

For context, in 2016, the USAID workforce composition is as follows:

[T]he Agency’s mission was supported by 3,893 U.S. direct hire employees, of which 1,896 are Foreign Service Officers and 253 are Foreign Service Limited, and 1,744 are in the Civil Service. Additional support came from 4,600 Foreign Service Nationals, and 1,104 other non-direct hire employees (not counting institutional support contractors). Of these employees, 3,163 are based in Washington, D.C., and 6,434 are deployed overseas. These totals include employees from the Office of Inspector General.*

In 2009, USAID also launched its Development Leadership Initiative (DLI) which created 820 positions over three years. While USAID recently told Congress that none of the DLI positions have been cancelled, we have yet to learn what kind of staff shrinkage is in the future for our country’s development professionals. Maybe Mr. Tillerson’s Town Hall will answer this and a host of other questions tomorrow.

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Senators Issue Bipartisan Concern Over Tillerson’s Management of @StateDept

Posted: 12:37 am ET

 

On November 14, we heard  SFRC Senators Corker and Cardin expressed clear dissatisfaction with the information they received from the State Department concerning the ongoing reorganization.

On November 15, Senators Shaheen and McCain wrote to Mr. Tillerson expressing concern over the continued hiring freeze and the depletion of the career corps.  The Shaheen-McCain letter include three requests:

1)  Consult with Congress prior to implementing any additional measures that could   potentially have long-term impacts on the recruitment, staffing and retention of State Department personnel.

2)  Remove the arbitrary hiring freeze on both lateral transfers and the intake of new Foreign Service and Civil Service officers to maintain a smooth, predictable flow of new talent.

3)  Resume promotions for the best and the brightest to avoid losing our top officers.

The State Department’s non-partisan Foreign Service and Civil Service career professionals represent a unique national asset that belongs to all Americans. They are America’s front line, promoting our safety, security and prosperity, often in difficult and dangerous places. Their expertise, carefully cultivated over decades, is an integral part of our government’s national security architecture. While we support reasonable steps to improve the efficiency of the State Department, such efforts must be fully transparent, with the objective of enhancing, not diminishing, American diplomacy.

Full letter after the fold.

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