Posted: 3:19 am ET
We previously blogged about the use of social media in State Department official communication back in February (see @StateDept Issues Guidance For Official Communication Using Social Media, What’s Missing?). On August 24, the State Department updated its guidance for official communication using social media. “To engage on social media in an official capacity, personnel must use an account created specifically for official use that is separate from an account used for private, personal use.” The guidance also notes that “all Department social media sites used for official public communications must be registered by visiting the Social Media Account Registry on Diplopedia.” The change transmittal notes that this change “consolidates regulations concerning social media for official public diplomacy and public affairs purposes.”
Per Foreign Affairs Manual 10 FAM 180:
a. Senior officials and other employees whose positions make it appropriate for them to engage in official communications on behalf of the Department over social media (“Department social media spokespersons”) must not use personal social media accounts to do so. They must use official social media accounts, created and owned by the Department.
(1) Department social media spokespersons must be instructed before they begin their positions that they will not be able to use their personal social media accounts for official communications, and that content on personal social media accounts must comply with 3 FAM 4176. Forwarding, linking to, or otherwise reposting official content on a personal social media account will not ordinarily constitute official communications if the content was first released on an official platform, provided that it is clear from the circumstances that the personal social media account is not being used to communicate on behalf of the Department.
(2) When Department social media spokespersons begin their positions, they are provided access to official social media accounts, and they will lose access to those accounts when they leave that position. Whenever possible, the same account is passed from one incumbent in a position to the next. As such, account names include only the office or position (e.g., @USEmbConsularManila, @USAmbManila); they do not include personal names.
(3) Missions, bureaus, or offices must maintain a list of their authorized official social media accounts and the credentials for those accounts. Accounts are created in accordance with 5 FAM 793.
b. In order to put a “human face” on the Department’s social media presence, Department social media spokespersons are authorized, but not required, to post certain kinds of personal content to their official accounts (e.g., posts about family news, pictures of pets, discussions of hobbies). This personal content may be considered official communications and must comply with, among other things, restrictions on partisan political activities, endorsements of commercial goods or services, fundraising and solicitations, official actions affecting financial interests, and the publication of information that could compromise the security of the individual or others. See 3 FAM 4175.2, Content of Official Capacity Public Communications, for additional guidance on content of official communications.
c. All accounts that have been used for official communications are considered Department accounts, and are either retained by the Department for use by the next incumbent or retired in accordance with applicable records disposition schedules, as appropriate. The content of such accounts is also retired in accordance with applicable records disposition schedules.
The new guidance also include a section on impersonations on social media; the regs make a distinction with parody accounts (good news Rexxon Drillerson (@RexxonDrill), but have the 10 FAM 184 handy).
a. Impersonations, or the creation of an account that is intended to be mistaken for another account, are not permitted on most major U.S.-based social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. International Information Programs’ (IIP’s) Digital Support and Training Division is responsible for coordinating with U.S.-based third-party social media platforms to assist Department personnel in addressing situations where sites or accounts are impersonating official U.S. Government sites or accounts, including seeking removal of imposter accounts in an expedited manner. Impersonation accounts are not the same as parody accounts. Parody accounts pretend to be another account but for humor, satire, or other reasons that rely upon the viewer’s ability to tell that the account is not real, and they are generally permitted under platforms’ Terms of Service.
b. If you determine that there is an impersonation account on Facebook, you must file a ticket with Facebook and then email IIP’s Digital Support and Training Division at IIPSMS@state.gov with relevant details for documentation so that the ticket may be elevated with Facebook.
c. If you determine that there is an impersonation account on Twitter, you must report the imposter to Twitter using this form and forward the autoreply email from Twitter, including the ticket number, to IIPSMS@state.gov to expedite the removal process with Twitter.
d. If you determine there is an impersonation account on another platform, you must follow that platform’s reporting guidelines and notify IIPSMS@state.gov.
e. You must not interact with or acknowledge the impersonator to avoid encouraging further activity.
What this consolidated guidance still does not include is what happens when “senior officials and other employees”, both career and political appointees do not comply with 10 FAM 180. What if they refuse to switch from a personal account to an official account? Who will compel them? And if State can’t compel them, how do you archive official communication from their personal social media account?
Posted: 3:17 am ET
Updated: 2/9, 8:20 pm PT
On January 17, 2017, the State Department issued a new Foreign Affairs Manual guidance “for senior officials and other employees whose positions require them to engage in official communications on behalf of the State Department over social media.” These officials and employees “must not use personal social media accounts to do so.” They are required to use official social media accounts “created and owned by the Department.”
The new rules say that Department social media spokespersons must be instructed before they begin their positions that they will not be able to use their personal social media accounts for official communication. When Department social media spokespersons begin their positions, they are provided access to official social media accounts, and they will lose access to those accounts when they leave that position. Whenever possible, the same account is passed from one incumbent in a position to the next. As such, account names include only the office or position (e.g., @USEmbConsularManila, @USAmbManila); they do not include personal names.
“In order to put a “human face” on the Department’s social media presence, Department social media spokespersons are authorized, but not required, to post certain kinds of personal content to their official accounts (e.g., posts about family news, pictures of pets, discussions of hobbies). This personal content may be considered official communications and must comply with, among other things, restrictions on partisan political activities, endorsements of commercial goods or services, fundraising and solicitations, official actions affecting financial interests, and the publication of information that could compromise the security of the individual or others.”
The guidance notes that all accounts that have been used for official communications are considered Department accounts, and are either retained by the Department for use by the next incumbent or retired in accordance with applicable records disposition schedules, as appropriate. The content of such accounts is also retired in accordance with applicable records disposition schedules.
The guidance says that missions, bureaus, or offices must maintain a list of their authorized official social media accounts and the credentials for those accounts. Accounts are created in accordance with 5 FAM 793. It looks like they’ve got tons of work to do.
The new regs do not identify which senior officials, nor specifically mentions ambassadors, or principal offices as required to do this, but the regs cites “senior officials and other employees whose positions require them to engage in official communications on behalf of the State Department over social media.” One example cited is the U.S. Ambassador to Manila Twitter account, @USAmbManila, which adheres to the Twitter handle convention required under 10 FAM 180.
The regs also does not include guidance on what to do with existing social media accounts, nor a time frame when these senior officials must start using Department-created social media accounts. What if senior officials continue using their personal social media accounts despite these updated rules, what then? 10 FAM 180 doesn’t say, but a quick review of State Department social media accounts show that some social media accounts (@USAmbMongolia, @USAmbNepal, @USAmbManila, @StateDG, @WHASpeaks, etc.) have adhered to these rules but a good number of senior officials still do not appear to be in compliance with 10 FAM 180.
Note from examples below that Joe Crook, spokesperson for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs uses @WHASpeaks as his Twitter handle instead of his name. The US Ambassador to Mongolia Jennifer Z. Galt uses @USAmbMongolia not @JenniferZGalt. Similarly, the US Ambassador to Nepal Alaina B. Teplitz uses @ not @AlainaBTeplitz. As well, per 10 FAM 180, Director General Arnold Chacon’s does not use his name as his Twitter handle but @StateDG, and Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Bruce Wharton uses @UnderSecPD on Twitter instead of a personalized handle. This makes the transition of these accounts to the successor to these positions seamless, and painless. We think this also help ensure that every official encumbering a new position does not start from scratch in their social media networks after every turn-over. And since they’re considered official communication, they must also be considered federal records for retention purposes.
@AmbCKennedy with 134K followers is now an archived account; a new account @USAmbJapan, currently an egghead and a protected account went up last month presumably waiting for the next U.S. Ambassador to Tokyo to show up and build his/her new network. @ with 625K followers is now archived, and her successor @ with 218K followers assumed office at @USUN without assuming an official handle. Except wait, the US Ambassador to the
US UN has cabinet rank which gives the current ambassador (and the previous one) direct access to POTUS without having to go through the State Department, so we don’t even know if the FAM has any meaning in this specific case. That said, there are obviously other officials who are not in compliance with 10 FAM 180. We’ll have to see what State will do about those accounts.
Posted: 1:37 am ET
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On May 12, 2016, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) authorized the use of social media by official investigators who are conducting background investigations for security clearances.
The directive addresses the collection and use of publicly available social media information during the conduct of personnel security background investigations and adjudications for determining initial or continued eligibility for access to classified national security information or eligibility to hold a sensitive position and the retention of such information. This affects prospective hires and all employees who are subjects of periodic investigations.
The policy says that agencies “may choose to collect publicly available social media information in the personnel security hackground investigation process, which pertains to the covered individual’s associations, behavior and conduct, as long as the information pertains to the adjudicative guidelines for making determinations of initial or continued eligibility for access to classified information or eligibility to hold a sensitive position.”
- Authorized investigative agencies may collect, usc, and retain publicly available social media information as part of a covered individual’s background investigation and, if collected, shall incorporate the relevant results in the investigative record. The period of coverage for publicly available electronic information will be consistent with the scope of the investigation.
- Authorized adjudicative agencies may use and retain publicly available social media information when determining initial or continued eligibility of a covered individual for access to classified information or eligibility to hold a sensitive position.
- Collection of publicly available social media information shall only be conducted after obtaining the signed Authorization for Release of information form of the Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, which includes notice of the collection of such information.
- Only publicly available social media information pertaining to the covered individual under investigation shall intentionally be collected. Absent a national security concern, or criminal reporting requirement, information pertaining to individuals other than the covered individual will not be investigated or pursued. Information inadvertently collected relating to other individuals will not be retained unless that information is relevant to a security determination or the covered individual.
The directive says that covered individuals “shall not be requested or required” to provide passwords, log into a private account; or take any action that would disclose non-publicly available social media information. Agencies are also precluded from creating accounts or using existing accounts on social media for the purpose of connecting (e.g., “friend”, “follow”) to a covered individual or enlist the assistance of a third party in order to bypass privacy controls and/or access otherwise non-publicly available social media information.
Read more below or see Collection, Use, and Retention of Publicly Available Social Media Information in Personnel Security Background Investigations and Adjudications, Security Executive Agent Directive 5, May 12, 2016.
Via FAS/Secrecy News:
Posted: 12:08 am ET
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The Foreign Service Grievance Board has released its 2015 annual report. Excerpts below:
The FSGB, as the primary appeals tribunal for Foreign Service Officers, is in many cases the tribunal of last resort for a wide variety of disputes that arise in the context of employment in the Foreign Service. Although the Board’s decisions may be appealed to the Federal District Courts, such appeals are rare. Therefore, the Board holds sway over decisions that may not only adversely affect Foreign Service careers but that may be fatal to such careers.In its 2015 report, the FSGB says that it has “achieved significant progress in reducing the timelines from the inception of the appeal (or the filing of the grievance with the Board) to the issuance of the final decision. Taking into consideration certain anomalies (cases settled, withdrawn, etc.), the grievance processing time was reduced from an average of 41 weeks in 2014 to 34 weeks in 2015.”
The Board is constantly mindful that external trends and societal changes that affect the Foreign Service have a bearing on dispute resolution. In that regard, we have encouraged internal discussion and on occasion invited outside experts to make presentations on topics that we consider relevant to the Board’s core functions. For example, this past year the Board held a panel discussion on the impact of social media on diplomacy, including such issues as expectations of privacy and security of communications in a much more active cyber environment. We also invited four distinguished individuals to engage the Board in a wide-ranging discussion on disability and its impact on the Foreign Service. The discussion ranged from a report on what the Department of State is doing to provide accommodations for various employees who are disabled to the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD. These issues, along with a myriad of other conditions caused by service in stressful, dangerous and unhealthy posts abroad, have significant impact on behavior and performance and are often addressed by evolving laws and regulations; they are therefore relevant to the overall mission of the Board. My expectation is that the Board will continue to encourage discussion of issues that influence Foreign Service careers, and that will enlarge the Board’s understanding of the growing complexities in the practice of diplomacy and the legal framework that surrounds it.
Some of the notable 2015 FSGB cases:
- One complex case arose from the circumstances following the September 11, 2012, attack on an American diplomatic post in Benghazi. The reviewing officer of a senior DS Agent was placed on administrative leave during the last four months of the rating period. No communication was allowed between the rated employee and reviewer during that time. Additionally, the rated employee was subsequently responsible for implementing many changes in procedures that had been in place under the reviewer who was placed on leave. The employee assumed that the person acting in the original reviewer’s stead would provide the reviewing statement for his EER. However, the Department determined that his former reviewer would write the reviewing statement, since that officer had not been formally reassigned and was familiar with grievant’s performance during most of the rating period. Grievant claimed that this decision, along with the Department’s decision to assign no reviewer for his subsequent Interim EER, contrary to grievant’s expectations, disadvantaged him in the highly competitive promotion process at the senior levels. The Board found that although the Department had contravened the regulations regarding reviewing officers, grievant, who had been recommended for performance pay, had not demonstrated actionable harm, and the grievance was denied. FSGB Case No. 2015-022. (This case does not appear to be available at fsgb.gov).
- A second grievance illustrated an issue involving informal counseling that occurs with some frequency in cases that end up at the Board. Grievant, an untenured officer, challenged several EERs and a low ranking on a number of grounds, among them that he had not previously been counseled on deficiencies identified in his EERs. After a thorough review of the record, including contradictory statements by the employee and raters, the Board found that, with one exception, grievant had been counseled, albeit informally, but not in writing on the official counseling form as provided by Department regulations. In accordance with Board precedent, the Board found that such informal counseling was acceptable, although not the best practice. FSGB Case No. 2013-046. (PDF)
- The appeal with the largest sum at stake was filed by the daughter of a deceased Foreign Service Officer. The Department sought to collect over $300,000 in annuity payments that it had continued to deposit to the account of the deceased’s wife (the grievant’s mother) for over a decade after the mother’s death. The grievant alleged that her mother had told her that the payments would be continued, and that she should use them for the benefit of her minor nephew, whose father had also died. When the Department requested repayment, grievant asked for a waiver. The Department denied the application for waiver on the basis that it (the agency) was prohibited by regulation from waiving repayment of overpayments made to an estate. The Board affirmed the Department’s findings. The grievant has appealed the decision to district court. (See Judicial Actions Involving Board Rulings, below.) FSGB Case No. 2014-018. (PDF)
- In a second, unusual, case, the grievant was a Department employee who had filed the first Foreign Service grievance in 1972. At that time, he was due to be separated as a result of expiration of time in class, and would have received no retirement benefits. The grievant protested that the separation was really due to policy differences with his superiors. During the proceedings, grievant was separated and hired into a Civil Service position. He ultimately won the grievance, but was never reinstated in accordance with the remedies granted. Grievant requested that the Board negotiate a revised annuity based on the original grievance decision. The Board found that the passage of over four decades since the original grievance made the new grievance untimely, and it dismissed the case. FSGB Case No. 2014-042. (Also see FSGB Recognizes Grievant’s “Enduring Dissatisfaction” With @StateDept’s 40 Year Old Grievance Case — Where’s the Medal?)
- A third case involved both a two-and-a-half-year delay in proposing discipline and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an issue that has arisen with increasing frequency in grievances. The grievant was a DS Agent who allegedly suffered from PTSD following an earlier military deployment to Iraq. The Department charged that grievant failed to inform it about the PTSD during the hiring process, and that he was taking prescription medication without notifying DS as required by the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM). The Board sustained both charges but did not sustain two of the specifications under one of the charges, and remanded to the Department to reconsider the penalty. The delay was not found to have harmed or prejudiced the grievant in this case. FSGB Case No. 2014-020 (PDF).
- One case involving the appeal of an assignment was closed this year. Grievant had been an FS-02 officer for several years when he was voluntarily separated and transferred to an international organization. He remained at the international organization for seven years, where he held a senior position in his final years. Grievant contested his assignment to an FS-02 position when he returned to State. However, he had also filed a whistleblower reprisal complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) involving the same issues. Grievant withdrew his grievance appeal in order to pursue the OSC complaint. FSGB Case No. 2014-025. (Also see How many people should be put through a wringer before, oh you know …. and Secondments to international organizations and promotions? Here comes the boo!).
Some unresolved cases at the end of 2015:
- Grievant, an untenured DS Agent who spoke fluent Chinese, applied for an upgraded security clearance pursuant to a pending assignment to China. In mid-2013 he was informed that his Top Secret clearance was being suspended based on issues surrounding his personal conduct and his foreign preference and influence. The Department also suspended his law enforcement duties and LEAP, assigning the Agent to unclassified duties. Although the Agent was recommended for tenure the same year, tenure was withheld pending resolution of the security issues, and he was low ranked. Grievant challenges these actions on procedural grounds. FSGB Case No. 2015-034.
- USAID sought to suspend a Management Officer assigned to a conflict zone for negligent contracting actions that it alleged led to the costly collapse of a roof on a new USAID building. The collapse took place in 2009; discipline was proposed in early 2013. As of mid-2015, the agency had not yet issued a final decision on the discipline; however, it was withholding the grievant’s promotion, recommended in 2013, pending that decision. The grievant challenged the agency’s action as untimely and also claimed as a defense that his alleged negligence was due to his PTSD. The case appeared to be near an agreed resolution last year when a second investigation of the grievant halted negotiations between the parties. FSGB Case No. 2015-020.
- An employee posted to South America with USAID stopped on his way home by a local bar/grocery store, where, he alleges, his drink was drugged by a young woman who joined him. He claims that he awoke the next morning in a strange place, feeling ill and disoriented, and found that $5,000 had been charged to his debit card. The grievant and his wife state that he continued to hallucinate and be paranoid for two days, supporting their conclusion that he had been drugged. He reported the incident to the RSO and was later recommended for separation for cause based on two charges: 1) Conduct Unbecoming, for having had commercial sex in violation of Department policy; and 2) Dishonesty, for having reported his credit cards stolen, when he still had them in his possession. FSGB Case No. 2015-048. (This case does not appear to be available at fsgb.gov but a similar case is
During the past year the Board resolved two implementation disputes filed by AFSA.
- The first involved the meaning of language in the 2013 Precepts governing the award of Meritorious Service Increases (MSIs). AFSA and the Department had for many years negotiated the Procedural Precepts concerning MSIs. The Precepts had historically called for awarding MSIs to all employees recommended by the Selection Boards, up to a set percentage of employees in each competitive class. Due to the sequester of funds government-wide in 2013, the negotiated language permitted withholding payment of the MSIs. When the sequester was lifted, the Department nevertheless continued to withhold payment of the awards. AFSA argued that refusal to pay at that point violated the terms of the Precepts to which they had agreed. The Board found in AFSA’s favor, based on the parties’ past practice. The Department has appealed this decision to the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board, which has not yet ruled. FSGB Case No. 2014-028. (PDF)
- In the second implementation dispute, AFSA alleged that the Department had failed to hold negotiations and/or reach agreement with it on an Embassy London change in practice relating to the deductions Embassy London employees could make from the salaries of their own domestic employees when those employees were given room and board in embassy-provided housing. AFSA contended that the embassy’s unilateral change violated the FAM and the parties’ 1987 Framework Agreement. The Board found that the appeal was filed late and dismissed it for lack of timeliness. FSGB Case No. 2015-005. (PDF).
Read the full report below or read it online via fsgb.gov:
— Domani Spero
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Updated 12/16/14 at 9:45 pm: We understand from the “R” shop that 3 FAM 4170 is in clearance now and something about “third time’s a charm!” What’s that about?
* * *
The December issue of the Foreign Service Journal includes a Speaking Out piece by FSO Wren Elhai, Twitter Is a Cocktail Party, Not a Press Conference (or, Social Media for Reporting Officers). The author is currently serving in the political-economic section of Consulate General Karachi. Prior to joining the State Department, he worked at the Center for Global Development, a D.C.-based think-tank, as a policy analyst where he also ran the Center’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Excerpt below:
Current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations require any State Department employee posting anything to a social media site that relates to a matter “of official concern” to go through the same clearance process that would govern a media appearance or a published op-ed.
This is a shockingly vague rule, one that I have been told in training covers even posting quotes from official State Department statements or links to articles that support U.S. policy. It is a rule so vague that any diplomat with a Facebook account will confirm that nearly every one of us violates it on a daily basis.
If you think of Twitter as the digital equivalent of a newspaper, then it makes sense to try to maintain control over what diplomats say there. However, if Twitter is a digital cocktail party, that’s an untenable position. No one would even consider asking diplomats to pre-clear everything they say to people they meet at public events—let alone to seek press office clearance before starting a conversation with a potential contact.
We are paid to know U.S. foreign policy, to present and defend our positions, and to not embarrass ourselves when we open our mouths in public. We are trusted to speak tactfully and to know what topics are best discussed in other settings.
Our policy should treat our interactions online and in the real world on an even footing. Yes, there will be rare occasions when diplomats speak undiplomatically and, just as when this happens in the real world, those diplomats should face consequences.
But just as we don’t limit ourselves to talking about the weather at receptions, we should be able to present U.S. policy and engage with contacts online. To meet people, we need to show up for the party.
Read in full via FSJ here.
On the topic of consequences, Sir James Bevan KCMG, UK High Commissioner to India recently gave a speech to a group of journalists that’s related to this, particularly on how one might be a bit boring on Twitter, and for good reasons:
And we diplomats sometimes have to behave a bit differently from you journalists, or at least have to pretend that we do. There are things which you can do and say which we diplomats cannot, lest we provide you with copy that is good for you but bad for us.
Some of you have said that my Twitter account @HCJamesBevan is a little bit boring. There’s a reason for that: I like my job and I want to keep it. For a diplomat, being too interesting on Twitter is the quickest way to get sacked. I like India and I want to stay here.
Back to the article, the author of the FSJ piece has cited 5 FAM 790 Using Social Media (pdf) on his article, the guidance first issued in June 2010. You might, however, want to check out 3 FAM 4172.1-3 (pdf) Review of Materials Prepared in an Employee’s Private Capacity, which includes matters of “official concern.” It does look like 3 FAM 4170, the regs for Official Clearance of Speaking, Writing, and Teaching (pdf) has not been updated since 2009, but right now, that’s the official rules.
This past June, AFSA told its members that for more than a year it has been negotiating a revision to the current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations governing public speaking and writing (3 FAM 4170).
“As mentioned in our 2013 Annual Report, our focus has been to accommodate the rise of social media and protect the employee’s ability to publish. We have emphasized the importance of a State Department response to clearance requests within a defined period of time (30 days or less). For those items requiring interagency review, our goal is to increase transparency, communication and oversight. We look forward to finalizing the negotiations on the FAM chapter soon—stay tuned for its release.”
This long awaited update to 3 FAM 4170 has been in draft mode since 2012 (see State Dept to Rewrite Media Engagement Rules for Employees in Wake of Van Buren Affair. Also check out a related piece we did in February 2013 (see Social Media Schizophrenia Continues on Background, and Oh, Stuff That Loophole, Ey?).
* * *
- FSO-Author Writes About Publishing in the Foreign Service; Update to 3 FAM 4170 Coming Soon?
- Social Media Schizophrenia Continues on Background, and Oh, Stuff That Loophole, Ey?
- State Dept to Rewrite Media Engagement Rules for Employees in Wake of Van Buren Affair
One of our readers from a post that will remain unnamed recently wrote a note with the following heads-up, “…our Front Office has gone on an anti-social media rampage of late.”
Something about slamming worker bees for not using Facebook or Twitter responsibly? Apparently, using our universal idiotic translator, that means anyone at post using FB or Twitter was not/not using it responsibly.
These folks have been sequestered inside the mission (before sequestration was a DC rage) due to well, reasons and are not allowed to meet their contacts outside the embassy compound. But our diplomats can continue their host country engagement despite the security hindrances in country X or Y because there now are plenty of social media tools. Except that embassies are not democracies, and when the Front Office is of the opinion that staffers who use these tools are not using it responsibly – what do you get? What kind of work can our diplomats realistically do when they cannot travel outside the embassy compound? What kind of host country outreach can be expected of them when even the mere use of social media tools is considered irresponsible use by their bosses?
And so the State Department’s social media schizophrenia continues, on background in that region over there.
This gives us an excuse to revisit the social media hubbub from last year about the change in the clearance regs, also known as the 2-day clearance for tweets scandal that gave everyone ants in their pants —
Anyway — rumor has it that when Condolezza Rice’s book was submitted for clearance at the State Department a year or so ago — the Executive Secretariat sent that around with very tight short fuze clearance taskers so that the 30 day timeline could be respected. This is the book where she reportedly congratulated herself on forcing more State Department officials into the field.
Sometime last year year, we published in this blog a short piece on PTSD by an active FSO, and we understand that the clearance for that came through, shockingly enough within 24 hours.
So when the clearance system works, it rocks, but it does not always work as intended.
The current rules says that if the designated review period of 30 days run out without a response, that an employee may go ahead and publish the submitted material with a couple of caveats (no classified or protected info used). Which is good because it makes the clearance office accountable; officials cannot just sit on the submitted material for no reason than to stall publication. There is the risk, of course, that the Dept will go after you when you take that option. Prime example of this is retired FSO Peter Van Buren who wrote a comical and depressing account of reconstruction in Iraq in his book, We Meant Well.
That book was submitted for clearance, went beyond the 30 day timeframe and the author took the risk and published the book. The State Dept did go after him for purported use of classified information in the book, which did not wash or perhaps more appropriately, washed with bad streaks all over it. After a lengthy semi-public battle, Mr. Van Buren retired from the State Department with full benefits.
We must note that the need to get a book cleared is not a laughing matter. The USG once purchased all copies of a book and had a book burning event (see Operation Dark Heart). In spring last year, a US court ruled that a CIA-connected author may forfeit any future money he earns from a book (see “The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture”)
James Bruno, a retired FSO and author of political thrillers Permanent Interests, Chasm, Tribe and the latest, still waiting clearance, The Havana Queen, had to wait an average of six month for the State Department to review his books. Mr. Bruno wrote about this in his blog:
“My book manuscripts must undergo government security review before I can even show them to a book agent or a publisher. Those I published before 2000 were cleared quickly and with little interference from the censors. The Bush-2 administration, however, tightened the process up greatly. It took almost six months to get clearance for my latest novel, “Tribe.” Upon completion of the manuscript, I phoned State to ask to whom I should send it. In return, they faxed me a letter stating, “Everything you write will be considered classified until cleared by this office.”
Ugh! In another blog post, Mr. Bruno wrote:
“This week, I shipped off to the U.S. State Department my fourth book for security review as required by nondisclosure rules binding on all active duty and retired government personnel who have held top secret security clearances. Taking an average of six months per review, my books will have sat a total of two years with the green eye-shaders in Washington. That’s two years of not being published. Two years of royalties not flowing into my bank account.”
If the 30-day timeline is to be respected for a former Secretary of State, it should be respected for all employees, active or retired, otherwise why have the rules in placed when there is selective application of the rules? Pardon me? That’s exactly why there are rules in place so exceptions can be made?
Well, dammit, that hurts our head!
Lost in noise of the 2-day clearance for tweets (which reportedly ain’t gonna happen!) is the central point that under the proposed rules, the State Dept endeavors to control much more firmly its employees speaking, writing, and media engagement, particularly on matters considered “of official concern,” that is, all matters of concern to the State Department. To put it bluntly, the gag works but did not work as well as evidenced by the Van Buren case. So an update is needed to make sure it works perfectly, silly.
While Alec Ross put his own spin on this, you might check out this flowchart on the review of State employees public communication whether done in their official or private capacity (h/t to John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review and We Meant Well.
Mary Jeffers, a senior State Department officer specializing in public diplomacy currently detailed outside Foggy Bottom had a piece on this in the takefiveblog. She writes:
Right now, if you are an Ambassador or PAO (public affairs officer) overseas you are cleared to tweet or post to social media (as well as talk to local journalists, do interviews with local media, etc.) as you see fit — and it doesn’t look like these new rules would change that. And if you are in Washington in an office that needs to communicate publicly about something, you can work with the PA staff in your own bureau to get near-instant clearance.
(Plus, employees can always use language that’s already been cleared, e.g. text from previous official speeches and statements — and frankly, a lot of language gets recycled this way because it’s efficient and ensures consistency, which is necessarily valued in this business).
And you can always pick up the phone to follow-up clearance requests to multiple offices, email them or if needed, walk your text to the clearance office. So what’s the real hubbub here? Ms. Jeffers with her pulse on the ground writes:
- … in situations where the reason people might read your blog article or listen to your speech is that you work for State, but you want to use your own words and speak your own thoughts. And of course there’s a broad spectrum of such situations, ranging from invitational speaking that all State officers ought to do as part of their work (on one end) to whistle-blowing (at the other); and,
- Close a loophole that indicated if State PA doesn’t respond to a request for clearance within a certain deadline, one is free to publish.
Those two items sit right at the heart of the matter.
The 3 FAM 4170 current rules applies to “all public speaking, writing and teaching materials of “official concern” whether done in official or private capacity. We suspect that the greatest impact on the proposed rules would be felt by employees speaking, writing, teaching and doing any sort of public engagement in their private capacity.
So all FB, Twitter, Blogger, WordPress, Ning, other social media platforms users who are State people, talking online about bidding, Iraq, assignments, promotions, housing, officially issued furniture, etc. etc. the proposed new rules are not going to be any better or easier despite official speechifying to the contrary. So you better stick with toucans. Look, the 30- day clearance will be shrunk to 2-5 days for social media posts. Apparently, the public thinks that’s unacceptable for official communication. Does that mean it is also unacceptable for employees communicating in their private capacity? Stay tuned.
Also as we’ve have blogged previously, the catch all language of the proposed new rules is troubling particularly on not violating “standards of character, integrity, and conduct expected of all Department employees as defined in 3 FAM 1216” — those standards are not even spelled out in the cited regulation! Oh, hey, did we hear right that this draft regulation was done by an intern?
In any case — all that and the proposed closure of the loophole contained in 3 FAM 4172.1-7 makes us think that tighter control of employee speech, particularly those done in a private capacity, is the main goal of the proposed new rules. It does not matter that there is now a new secretary of state. The building marches at its own tune. If the FAM update is not yet out (it’s not), it’s only because too much public attention probably made it suddenly shy.
As to the complaint overheard down that corridor that we should not be commenting on a draft reg — sorry folks, we could not help it. Once the regulation is finalized, it does not get any further hearing for a couple years or so. That’s way too long. This particular piece of the FAM has potentially significant repercussions to employees speaking in their private capacity. The mere fact that it leaked means others inside the building have significant concerns about it. Had management posted it in the spirit of true collaboration on the Sounding Board for comments, we probably would not have heard about it.
- The use of Social Media in Public Diplomacy: Scanning e-diplomacy by Embassies in Washington DC (takefiveblog.org)
- State Dept. employee strangled to death in Brazil (foxnews.com)
- Who are the 25 most connected world leaders on @Twitter? Ask @Twiplomacy HT @aliciacohn (nextlevelofnews.com)
- State Dept Wants You to Join the Foreign Service – Start Now So You’re on Board on/about 2015 (diplopundit.net)
WaPo’s Emily Heil gave Diplopundit a walk-on part in today’s In the Loop.
The State Department is considering instituting an extreme version of the famous 7-second delay used to keep profanity off live TV.
The department is rewriting its rules on social media, blogging, speeches and other appearances by employees, suggesting that officials get a full two days to review an employee’s proposed tweets and five days to give a yea or nay to a blog post, speech, or remarks prepared for a live event, according to the blog Diplopundit.
State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner tells the Loop the still-in-the-works changes are merely updates “to recognize the dynamic and decentralized nature of the 21st century information environment.”
We know agency budgets are tight all around, but it sounds like the State Department better spring for some extra red pens.
Read in full here.
Also see Life After Jerusalem: New Rules on the Use of Media: going back to “people to bureaucracy to people”
Just to be sure, this is in reference to the — okay, “still-in-the works” changes of 3 FAM 4170 and not/not 5 FAM 790 released in 2010 which set the rules for the use of social media by State Department employees.
We’ve asked if these new changes have any bearing on spouses and partners of State employees but have not heard anything back.
As mentioned in this blog before, among the listed authorities of 5 FAM 790 is 3 FAM 4125, Outside Employment and Activities by Spouses and Family Members Abroad.(pdf) The regs say “Family members of Department personnel working abroad who create and/or use social media cites must adhere to the policies contained in 3 FAM 4125.”
That section of course, is like Mars, without the rover.
- State Dept to Rewrite Media Engagement Rules for Employees in Wake of Van Buren Affair (diplopundit.net)
- After a Year of Serious Roars and Growls, State Dept Officially Retires FSO-Non Grata (wemeantwell.com)
- InTTENSITY Social Media Command Center™ Chosen for State Department Project (prweb.com)