Is Diplomatic Security, the State Department’s Law Enforcement Arm Trying to Break the Law?

Posted: 4:21 am ET
Updated: 10:37 am PST
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On October 4, we wrote about DS agents fleeing Diplomatic Security in droves for the U.S. Marshals Service.  We can now report that approximately 70 agents applied to move from Diplomatic Security to the U.S. Marshals Service and some 30 agents have received conditional offers. A State Department official on background shared with us a short-list of DS agents leaving the bureau for the U.S. Marshals Service. The list was reportedly compiled sometime this summer at the direction of the Diplomatic Security Front Office.  There is now an allegation that Diplomatic Security had asked the U.S. Marshals Service to stop accepting DS agents transfers.  Anecdotal evidence appears to indicate that the list is also being used by DS/IP in pre-assignment deliberations.  This comes amidst reports from sources that DSS Director Bill Miller addressed over 100 DSS agents during a brief in preparation for the UN General Assembly (UNGA), and allegedly stated that any DS agent who leaves for the U.S. Marshals would not be allowed back into the agency.

 

DS to Departing Agents: Bye, You Can’t Come Back! Seriously?

On the warning delivered at the UNGA brief, a State Department official who talked to us on background said: “I’m not sure how many people in that audience realized that just uttering those words is a prohibited personnel practice under 5 USC § 2302(b).”   

So we went and look up the actual statute: 5 U.S. Code § 2302 – Prohibited personnel practices

(b) Any employee who has authority to take, direct others to take, recommend, or approve any personnel action, shall not, with respect to such authority—

(4) deceive or willfully obstruct any person with respect to such person’s right to compete for employment;

(5) influence any person to withdraw from competition for any position for the purpose of improving or injuring the prospects of any other person for employment;

(10) discriminate for or against any employee or applicant for employment on the basis of conduct which does not adversely affect the performance of the employee or applicant or the performance of others; except that nothing in this paragraph shall prohibit an agency from taking into account in determining suitability or fitness any conviction of the employee or applicant for any crime under the laws of any State, of the District of Columbia, or of the United States;

Could the warning  — that any DSS agent who leaves for the U.S. Marshals would not be allowed back into the agency — influence an applicant for the USMS job to withdraw from competition for fear of retaliation?

If an agent in good standing departs the bureau for another federal job, and decides to come back later, can DS legally discriminate against that agent on the fact that he/she previously left the bureau for another agency?

Isn’t asking the U.S. Marshals Service to stop accepting DS agents transfers considered an obstruction to these agents’ right to compete for employment?

It looks like 5 U.S. Code § 2302 is quite clear about this. Interference with the hiring process of a federal employee is not permissible. Unless, Diplomatic Security is treating 5 U.S. Code § 2302 as a suggestion, and compliance as optional.

We understand that it has been a standard practice at Diplomatic Security that any agent who leaves in good standing is often welcomed back if they wished to return, with minor stipulations for reinstatement. We’re told that typically they would have three years to apply for reinstatement, subject to available vacancies, training requirements, and they may be required to take a hardship tour on the first new assignment upon reinstatement. We should note that 3 FAM 2130 actually says “Because recent familiarity with the Foreign Service is a valuable asset that distinguishes former members from new hires, candidates for reappointment may be considered if they have left the Service not longer than 5 years prior to the date on their reappointment request.”

If it is true — that the top law enforcement official at Diplomatic Security delivered a message not only contrary to practice but also against the law — wouldn’t this generate great concern and trepidation among the troops? Shouldn’t this alarm the top leadership at the State Department and in the Congress?

The State Department official on background told us that every year DS has some attrition to FBI, ATF, OIGs, etc.  but the fact that this lateral USMS announcement came out with the intent to hire experienced agents, at grade, and in significant numbers was “the perfect storm for the poor morale and lack of career control that plagues our mid-level agents.”  The conditional offers to the DS agents reportedly compose nearly one quarter of all offers sent out by the USMS.  We were told that no single agency is as widely represented in that offer pool as Diplomatic Security.

Which is probably embarrassing and all, as folks might start asking uncomfortable questions such as —what the heck is going on at Diplomatic Security these days?

Another source told us  this could have been a lot worse had the vacancy announcement lasted longer than 24 hours. The U.S. Marshals vacancy announcement actually opened on June 8, 2016 and closed on June 8, 2016.

So — we asked the Bureau about this reported bar the agents talk with a Q: PDAS reportedly told folks at UNGA that the departing agents would not be allowed to come back to DS. This sounds a lot like a retaliatory threat and would be a prohibited personnel practice under 5 USC § 2302(b).  After multiple emails and days of waiting, we finally got a non-response on October 12 from Diplomatic Security:

“Thank you for your query. We will have no additional comments on this.” 

Note that we have not received previous comments to these questions although we have sent multiple queries. Heaven knows we don’t expect perfection from our State Department but we do, however, expect it to be responsive and accountable for the reported actions of its top officials.

Look, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) is the security and law enforcement arm of the U.S. Department of State. Which means that an allegation that it is not following the law even in one area cannot stand with just “no comment.” It also cannot just be ignored. We got no clarification, no explanation, no denial.  Maybe State or DS will have comments for the Congressional Oversight folks?

The bureau has several responses we can think of:

#1.  Deny, deny, deny: hey, hey, this is a nothing-burger, go away.

FSprob_nothingtosee

 

#2. Admit in part/deny in part: there was an official brief, but this warning never happened; you’re barking up the wrong tree.

wrongtree

via giphy.com

#3. Aggrieved defense: We are a law enforcement agency, of course we follow the law; are you nuts?

areyounuts

via giphy.com

#4. Pride defense: We are the Diplomatic Security Service, we don’t make a habit of threatening anyone just because he/she wants to be like U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard!

#5. Ideal response not coming: We have no greater resource than our people. We have not, and we will not interfere with our employees right to compete for employment.

 GIF_shakinghead

Next: Why did Diplomatic Security compile a short-list of DS agents leaving for the U.S. Marshals Service?

 

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DS/Threat Investigations and Analysis Directorate Gets Downy April Fresh OIG Treatment

Posted: 1:22 am ET
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The Bureau of Diplomatic Security created its Threat Investigations and Analysis Directorate  in March 2008 by combining the following offices under the TIA Directorate umbrella:

  • Office of Intelligence and Threat Analysis (ITA)
  • Diplomatic Security Command Center (DSCC)
  • Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
  • Office of Protective Intelligence Investigations (PII)

It has a staff of about 200 employees. Below is the current org chart but some of the names may already be outdated, via State/OIG:

Screen Shot

State/OIG inspected the TIA Directorate from February 5 to March 7, 2016. The report dated September 20, 2016 went online on September 30. The IG Inspection teams include Team Leader, Lisa Bobbie Schreiber Hughes; Deputy Team Leader, Paul Cantrell, and members, Ronald Deutch, Gary Herbst, Leo Hession, Vandana Patel, and Richard Sypher.

This is the first inspection of this DS directorate, the first ever in eighth years.  It is a fairly thin report with just 12 pages. Here is the quick summary and some details below:

  •   The Threat Investigations and Analysis Directorate was accomplishing its stated mission “to protect life safety.”
  •   The Directorate’s decision to shift to a proactive approach to threat management expanded its mission and workload without a commensurate increase in human resources.
  •   Coordination and communication were effective at senior levels of the Threat Investigations and Analysis Directorate, but senior managers did not communicate consistently with mid-level staff members, adversely affecting the Directorate’s ability to efficiently meet its defined objectives and goals.

Taskings Up Approx 300%

The IG report says that the directorate’s taskings were up approximately 300% since 2010 but that it remained effective in achieving its core objectives. But then immediately after that, the report says that in the absence of increased staffing, the office was in danger of not meeting its basic responsibility.

Folks, you can’t have this both ways.

Despite taking on new responsibilities without additional staff and facing a high turnover among existing personnel, the Directorate achieved its mission. It had, however, requested additional staff to alleviate the burden on its employees. ITA told OIG that since 2010, its taskings had increased by approximately 300 percent; PII stated its mission to provide more proactive security had increased the agent workload “exponentially;” DSCC stated that watch officer responsibilities had steadily increased, especially in the post-Benghazi period. Despite these challenges, the Directorate asserted—and OIG agreed, based on input from the Directorate’s customers and OIG’s review of its products—that it remained effective in achieving its core life safety objectives.

The Directorate requested additional staff in January 2016, when Directorate leadership told the Assistant Secretary that in the absence of increased staff, it was “in danger of not meeting our basic responsibility to analyze, assess, investigate and disseminate threat information and the myriad of other duties for which we are responsible.” This theme was repeated in memoranda prepared for OIG and in personal interviews OIG conducted throughout the Directorate.

Oops! Is it just us or does this look like there’s lots of word padding in this report? Can’t they put these citations of GAO standards, FAM, etc in the footnotes? A third to a half of these sample paragraphs below are just descriptions of what’s in the manual or guidance. C’mon, the folks drafting this report can do better than this, right? And by the way, this is not the only report that has these word paddings.  See below:

Management Challenges

OIG found that increased staffing alone would be insufficient to address the Directorate’s management challenges. For example, a lack of coordination and communication between its offices and officers was unrelated to staffing shortfalls. OIG learned that mid-level officers were unfamiliar with the work of other Directorate offices; they did not have a clear understanding of how their work related to that of the Directorate overall; and they did not understand how their functions complemented those of similarly situated staff in other Directorate offices. This lack of familiarity created a risk that staff members would miss opportunities to work more efficiently. Moreover, it was sometimes difficult for them to prioritize tasks and define their audiences in an organization where everything related to the broad mission of protecting life safety. Mid-level staff members also cited the need for greater top-down and lateral communication. Principle 14.02 of the Government Accountability Office Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government emphasizes that management should communicate quality information throughout an entity using established reporting lines and to communicate down, across, up, and around reporting lines to all levels of the entity.

Tone at the Top

The Directorate’s DAS retired on March 4, 2016, days before the end of this inspection. The DS front office chose the ITA office director to replace him. OIG did not evaluate how the new DAS set the tone at the top—leading by example and demonstrating the organization’s values, philosophy, and operating style—because he started the position at the close of the inspection. However, OIG expressed the concern that his direct and forceful communication style, as demonstrated during his tenure as ITA office director, risked inhibiting the free flow of communication in a directorate that was, as discussed above, already challenged by communications issues. OIG advised the new DAS of the importance of adhering to the Leadership and Management Principles for Department Employees outlined in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214 b(4). These address the need for leaders to express themselves clearly and effectively, offer and solicit constructive feedback from others, and anticipate varying points of view by soliciting input.

Top Managers Not Held Accountable for Internal Control Assurance Process

The Directorate’s DAS and office directors did not provide annual internal control assurance statements for the Department’s annual Management Control Assurance Process2. Although lower-level Directorate staff completed the survey questionnaires DS used to confirm compliance with internal control requirements, Directorate managers did not complete assurance statements—as required in 2 FAM 024 of all office directors and higher level officials—due to lack of understanding of the requirements. As a result, DS had no documentation showing that Directorate leaders confirmed adherence to internal control requirements. The Department’s FY 2015 annual Management Control Assurance Process memorandum advised that, “Just as the Secretary’s statement will rely on your assurance statement, your assurance statement must be supported by input from your managers reporting to you.”

If you read the report, you will note that the director of ITA, one of the components was promoted as the new head of the DS/TIA directorate. So we looked at the performance of that component. The report says that 1) ITA lack top-down communication, 2) the office cannot evaluate its products without customer feedback and 3) new program to assign Intelligence Analysts to embassies proves unworkable. Two striking things:

FSOs as Intel Analysts?

“An ITA initiative that sought to place Foreign Service officers trained by ITA as intelligence analysts at embassies in countries designated as high risk for terrorism. Directorate leaders told OIG that after considering lessons learned in this first year, they concluded that the program was unworkable for a variety of practical and logistical reasons. Among them were the difficulty the Directorate faced recruiting employees with the requisite intelligence experience and challenges in arranging for appropriate secure embassy workspaces.”

The notion that FSOs would work overseas as intel analysts for Diplomatic Security is head-shaking painful. If they’ve spent some serious planning on that, they would have known how unworkable that is.  Which career ladder are you going to be on as an intel analyst? Was DS thinking of intel analysis as a collateral duty for FSOs overseas? What career track would that be on? What posts are intel analysts going to be on? What kind of onward assignments can you expect? As for recruitment, why would people with requisite intel experience leave their agencies and join a small office that’s not even hooked up to the intel community? The report did not show how much this unworkable program costs, and what lessons were learned here. The inspectors did not seem interested in all that.

A keen observant told us:  “I don’t see much digging: poor planning associated with these pet projects: deployed analyst program and the new “everything but the kitchen sink” division within ITA.” 

Oh, we want to know more about this “everything but the kitchen sink” division. Then there’s this:

Nonmembership in US Intel Community?

“ITA analysts were unaware of leadership’s decision on membership in the U.S. Government Intelligence Community. Of the 23 ITA analysts interviewed, half cited advantages of membership, including the increased access to information and training that they believed it would bring. ITA leadership, however, told OIG that it had already concluded that it was more advantageous for ITA to not join the Intelligence Community but had not informed the staff of its decision.”

Did you hear the guffaws over there?

ITA is tasked with analyzing all-source intelligence on terrorist activities and threats directed against chief of mission personnel and U.S. diplomatic facilities overseas. The office also monitors threats against the Secretary of State, U.S. Government officials, foreign dignitaries visiting the United States, and U.S.- based foreign diplomats and missions.  ITA leadership told OIG that “it was more advantageous for ITA to not join the Intelligence Community.” More advantageous to be walled off from the IC? How? The report does not discuss what “membership” means and what it entails, nor the advantages/disadvantages from nonmembership. It just accepts the director’s assessment that “it was more advantageous.” Folks, that’s stenography!

Overheard: “DS seems to think that the Intelligence Community is a round wooden table in a sealed-off room – a skull and bones-type membership. They talk about it in the report like they are debating on whether to have a pizza party.” We think that’s a well-deserved criticism.

Another directorate component PII took on additional workload without increasing its staff. Further, the report offers no dicussion on the Rewards for Justice Program which is also under PII. State.gov says that the Rewards for Justice program continues to be one of the most valuable U.S. Government assets in the fight against international terrorism. Okay. But how effective is RJF? This OIG report doesn’t say.

PII also expanded its support of DS coverage of special events, such as the World Cup. OIG reviewed the number of hours agents (but not intelligence analysts) devoted to these duties during 2015 and found this additional travel took agents away from the office for approximately 3,380 person-days. This equated to roughly one- third of PII’s deployable agents, leaving the remaining agents to accomplish what a significantly larger staff had previously done.

Quick takes on the other three components of the TIA Directorate

Office of Protective Intelligence and Investigations (PII)
–Expanded Workload Strains Manpower
— Supervisors do Not Readily Know the Status of Investigative Cases
–Taskings are Not Coordinated

Diplomatic Security Command Center (DSCC)
–No Metrics for Gauging Customer Satisfaction
–Overuse of the Law Enforcement Sensitive Caveat Limits Dissemination of Information

Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
–Short-term Extensions for Third Party Contractor Employees Create Challenges

*

We’re Adding Our Thumbs Up for @OSAC!

On a positive side, we should add that we are end-users of OSAC’s products and have been happy to see some improvements in the service it provides with timely maps, responsiveness, and infographic of U.S. interests overseas like the one below. OSAC folks are quite responsive when asked for additional information; occasionally even relaying our requests for confirmation.  When events are breaking overseas, our first stop is @OSAC on Twitter.  Sometimes they have the security message up before posts could even post those messages on the embassy’s website.

One thing we think they can improve is having a handler on duty 24/7 managing its Twitter account. When news break overseas affecting U.S. citizens, posts are not always ready or able to provide updated information.  But OSAC can do that on posts’ behalf.  Now if you can actually remove the stovepipe between Diplomatic Security and Consular Affairs, and at least on social media have @OSAC and @TravelGov work together, that would not only make the most sense (together they can do 24/7 coverage) but could also generate the most timely, needed updates especially during these now frequent emergencies.

The report is originally posted here (PDF) or read it below (use arrow in lower right hand corner in box below to maximize reading space).

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IG Inspection of Diplomatic Security’s Directorate of International Programs: After Benghazi Chaos, Nothing to See Here

Posted: 2:52 am EDT
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State/OIG inspected the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Directorate of International Programs (State/DS/IP) from June 2 through July 2, 2015.  The February 2016 report was posted online on February 22, 2016. International Programs is tasked with “managing and directing all Bureau of Diplomatic Security programs and policies that protect the Department of State’s international missions and personnel from the threats of terrorism, espionage (human and technical), and crime.”

The directorate has been headed by DAS Christian Schurman, a Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Agent with 27 years of service since September 2014.  In the aftermath of the Benghazi attack, the State Department created a new Directorate of High Threat Programs which carved out from DS/IP approximately 30 overseas missions and the liaison and coordination responsibilities for 4 of the 7 DoD combatant commands: U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Central Command, Joint Special Operations Command, and the U.S. Special Operations Command.

Structure:

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) International Programs Directorate (DS/IP) provides leadership, support, and oversight of security and law enforcement programs for 199 regional security offices overseas. A Deputy Assistant Secretary leads a staff of approximately 227 Foreign Service, Civil Service, contract, and retired annuitants and oversees an annual budget of more than $1.6 billion for local guard and personal protective services task orders in the Worldwide Protective Services (WPS) contract at U.S. missions overseas. The directorate consists of three offices with oversight and responsibility, as follows:

— The Office of Special Projects and Coordination provides global oversight of the Marine Security Guard (MSG) program and emergency planning for all U.S. diplomatic missions overseas.

— The Office of Overseas Protective Operations (DS/IP/OPO) provides funding, administrative and management oversight, and operational guidance for local guard and surveillance detection contracts, local guard and surveillance detection forces employed under personal service agreements, as well as the WPS contract and the residential security programs at overseas missions.

–The Office of Regional Directors serves as the directorate liaison between Regional Security Offices in the field, other DS directorates, and regional and functional bureaus.

Leadership:  OIG personal questionnaire results scored the Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs within the range of scores for the 66 Deputy Assistant Secretaries in 21 domestic inspections conducted during the past 5 years, in 10 of the 13 leadership attributes. He scored well above the prior averages in the areas of vision and goal setting, clarity, and problem solving.

Screen Shot

Summary of Findings:

  • Eighty-three percent of the Regional Security Officers who responded to an OIG field survey expressed satisfaction with timely guidance, direction, and coordination by the Directorate of International Programs on their behalf.
  • Seventy-nine percent of the Deputy Chiefs of Mission who responded to the field survey expressed satisfaction with the frequency and timeliness of communications and guidance from the Directorate of International Programs relating to Deputy Chief of Mission supervision of Regional Security Officers.
  •  Officials interviewed in five of the six regional bureaus stated that communications and coordination with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security have much improved in the aftermath of the attack on Benghazi in September 2012.
  •   The directorate is in the process of coordinating the updates of memoranda of understanding between the Department and the Department of Defense concerning Force Protection Detachments under Chief of Mission authority and the Marine Security Guard detachments.
  •   The Office of Acquisition Management and the Directorate of International Programs entered into an informal agreement to assign contracting officers and contracting specialists within the directorate Office of Overseas Protective Operations 8 years ago to help desk officers and acquisition management specialists oversee more than $1.6 billion in local guard and personal protective services contracts. However, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Office of Acquisition Management have no service level agreement defining the roles and responsibilities of both staffs, which has caused confusion and some misunderstanding.

State OIG made the following recommendations:

OIG made three recommendations to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security that include establishing or updating memoranda of agreement between the Department and the Department of Defense pertaining to the Marine Security Guard program, issuing guidance to Chiefs of Mission on the availability of U.S. military assets during emergency situations and implementing an orientation program for directorate acquisition staff.

OIG also made two recommendations to the Bureau of Administration relating to the implementation of a service level agreement pertaining to the administration of local guard and personal protective services contracts and updating the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System with timely contract performance data.

Read the full report here:

 

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