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Another Note About the Burn Bag–There’s No Easy Way of Doing This, Is There?

Posted: 4:13 pm PT
Updated: 10:50 am PT
Updated 11/15, 12:36 am PT
Updated: 11/16 4:51 am ET

In August 2014, we updated our Burn Bag guidance:

Just a quick note on the Burn Bag — we’re not always able to publish the entries you send us, or as quickly as you may want.  The intent remains the same, it’s cheaper than therapy.  We’re still talking about the “I’m feeling blue, I want to scream” things that you can’t put on your blog, things that’s making you tear out your hair or stuff you can’t tell your friends here or at post because — admit it, you live in a very large fishbowl.  As a reminder, kindly check the guidelines for sending your Burn Bag entries here.

One of our regular readers, a former ambassador suggested that some of these Burn Bag entries ought to be submitted not to this blog but to the OIG Hotline. That, of course, is not/not up for us to decide but for the writers/senders of these Burn Bag entries.

In any case, we promised to remind you about the Hotline.

If you need to report waste, fraud or mismanagement, please contact the State Department Office of Inspector General Hotline.   If you need to, you may contact the Hotline via email: oighotline@state.gov or by calling 202-647-3320 or 800-409-9926 or using its online form. Note that it is no longer possible to submit a report using the hotline email. We were told that  the current system of reporting information to the Hotline via the OIG’s online submission form “actually provides more anonymity.” Note that if you are using OIG’s online form, the USG system will probably capture/log your IP address. If you want to preserve your anonymity, you need to use a VPN service or an IP anonymizer.

According to the State/OIG website, examples of allegations that should be reported to the OIG Hotline include misuse, embezzlement or theft of government property or funds; contract or procurement fraud; contractor misconduct; passport and visa malfeasance; fraud, waste and mismanagement of Department and BBG operations; employee misconduct, such as misuse of official position; bribes or unauthorized acceptance of gifts; conflicts of interest and other ethical violations; and defense trade control violations.  Please check out the rest on the OIG Hotline page here.

Today, we are adding an importation notation that folks who submit Burn Bag entries should be aware of.  If you are submitting an entry reporting malfeasance and criminal wrong doing, we strongly urge you to report to a law enforcement office or use the OIG Hotline here. This is not because we are unsympathetic, but because we want you to get the right help. Your blogger is not a lawyer nor a member of law enforcement, and feels inadequate to offer appropriate assistance.

If you are submitting an entry that report or alleged criminal wrong doing that we determine can have repercussions to the safety and well being of other individuals in the community — for example, a report of a sexual predator at post, bureau, or school — we reserve the right to provide that information to State/OIG. That office can then make a decision whether to pursue any investigation.

So never mind — we were told by State/OIG that its “Hotline is not the proper venue to report a rape.” And that the reporting “should be done immediately to the RSO at post or the local law enforcement authority. They are in the best position to offer help with such a crime.” 

What happens if the accused is an RSO?! As we’ve previously blogged here, there is no official guidance in the FAM on reporting sexual assault in the Foreign Service (see The State Dept’s Sexual Assault Reporting Procedure Appears to Be a Black Hole of Grief). We’ve been trying to locate the unclassified cables that were released by DS/OSI in 2015 and earlier this year on sexual assault reporting. We will have a separate post if we’re successful. 

I guess, we will not be forwarding Burn Bag entries to OIG even if the alleged conduct has potential repercussions for other people in the community, we will just publish them in this blog. 

For congressional assistance, California Representative Jackie Spieir has an anonymous hotline and has worked on military rape and sexual assault. Her office can be reached at 202-226-5294  or through https://speier.house.gov/contact/website-problem.

As always, comments are welcome here.

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State/OIG Issues 11-Page Inspection Report of U.S. Embassy Croatia: Nothing to See Here!

Posted: 2:21 am ET

 

 

FSprob_nothingtosee

 

Below is the 11-page report issued by State/OIG. The summary of the report says:

  • Embassy Zagreb operated well and pursued the Integrated Country Strategy’s major policy objectives.
  • The Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs had not funded an additional ambassadorial driver position. Ambassadorial drivers were regularly on duty more than 10 hours per day.
  • The embassy had not consistently completed risk assessments or developed monitoring plans for all federal assistance awards using Department-approved formats.

The report does not include discussion about public diplomacy grants.  On consular affairs, it says the programs are well-run but makes no discussion about workload, or services provided to how many Americans in country. There’s no discussion about property management or procurement, the Health Unit, Equal Employment Opportunity, overseas schools, family member employment, etc.  Does the embassy have armored vehicles, are they assessed annually? Yo! The previous inspection was in 2009. It’s all good?  On locally employed staff, the report says, “Complaints about the wage increase and position classification process, however, were beyond the control of the Human Resources Unit.”  Huh? There is also no real discussion about public affairs and post’s social media strategy except a passing mention that the Ambassador created a Twitter account in February 2016 and by the time of the inspection had posted more than 300 tweets and attracted almost 600 followers.

Folks, seriously?

OIG inspected Embassy Zagreb from May 31 through June 15, 2016.  The OIG Team Members are John Dinger, Team Leader, Leslie Gerson, Deputy Team Leader Paul Houge, Dolores Hylander, Richard Kaminski, Shawn O’Reilly and Timothy Wildy.

 

Here is the 47-page inspection report from August 2009. Enjoy!

 

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Anonymous Letter Outs Sexual Abuse of Household Staff, Former DCM’s Husband Pleads Guilty

Posted: 3:18 am ET
Update: 5:08 pm ET

 

On October 12, the Justice Department announced that Labib Chammasthe husband of the former DCM at the US Embassy in Rabat, Morocco pleaded guilty to abusing a member of the household staff who had worked at the embassy residence for 16 years. He is set for sentencing on January 4, 2017:

Via USDOJ: Husband of Former U.S. Embassy Official in Morocco Pleads Guilty to Sexually Abusing Household Staff Member |  October 12, 2016

The husband of the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Rabat, Morocco, pleaded guilty today to sexually abusing a former household staff member from 2010 to 2013.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips of the District of Columbia and Director Bill A. Miller of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) made the announcement.

Labib Chammas, 65, of Reston, Virginia, pleaded guilty to one count of abusive sexual conduct before U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper of the District of Columbia.  Sentencing was set for Jan. 4, 2017.

In pleading guilty, Chammas admitted that between August 2010 and February 2013, while living in State Department-owned housing in Rabat, he sexually abused a woman who had worked at the residence for 16 years.  According to the plea agreement, Chammas supervised the staff at the residence and repeatedly threatened to fire staff members.  Out of fear that she would lose her job, the victim complied with Chammas’s requests that she massage his legs, hip and back, and then with his subsequent demands that she “massage” his genitalia.  On at least five occasions, Chammas took the victim by her head or hair and attempted to force her to perform oral sex.

DSS investigated the case.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Hertzfeld of the District of Columbia and Special Counsel Stacey Luck and Trial Attorney Jamie Perry of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section are prosecuting the case.

The original announcement is available to read here.

Affidavit in Support of Criminal Complaint

According to the May 13, 2016 Affidavit executed by DSS Agent Elizabeth Marmesh, her investigation “determined that between the dates of August 2010, and February 2013, Labib Chammas, a United States citizen, sexually assaulted a female member of his domestic staff within the confines and on the grounds of his U.S. Government-provided embassy residence in Rabat, Morocco. Chammas was married to the Deputy Chief of Mission (“DCM”) of U.S. Embassy Rabat, and resided in U.S. Govemment housing at “Villa Monterey” located at Angle Rue Memissa. No. 79, La Pinede, Rabat, Morocco (“DCM Residence”).”

The Affidavit cites SMTJ for this offense:  Title 18, United States Code, Section 7(9)(B), provides that. with respect to offenses committed by or against a national of the United States, the “Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction of the United States” includes residences in foreign States and the land appurtenant or ancillary thereto, inespective of ownership. used for purposes of United States diplomatic, consular, military, or other United States Govemment missions or entities in foreign States, or used by United States personnel assigned to those missions or entities.

Anonymous letter to OIG outs sexual abuse. We’ve extracted the following main details from the Affidavit. The court document contains much more graphic descriptions of the abuse:

On February 11. 2013, DS/OSI received a referral from the U.S. Department of State’s Office of the lnspector General (OIG). ln the referral, OIG personnel informed OSI that during a routine inspection of the U.S. Embassy in Rabat, the OIG inspection team received an anonymous letter alleging that Labib Chammas, husband of the DCM was sexually assaulting a member of his domestic staff.

On February 11.2013, DS/OSI deployed Special Agents (SAs) to Rabat. DS Agents interviewed Kenneth Hillas, Deputy Team Leader of the OIG inspection team. Hillas stated that he was visiting the U.S. Embassy Rabat. Morocco in order to conduct an OIG inspection of the Embassy. Hillas stated that on Friday, February 8,2012, the OIG staff discovered an envelope addressed to “OIG eyes only” in a pile of letters containing surveys fiom Embassy employees in reference to their inspection. Hillas stated that the envelope contained an anonymous typed letter containing allegations against Labib Chammas of sexual assault. Upon discovering the allegations, Hillas notified the Regional Security office (RSO) at U.S. Embassy Rabat and OSI. Hillas provided RSO with the original letter. Hillas stated that the anonymous letter alleged that Labib Chammas was sexually assaulting one of his domestic staff. Hillas stated that the domestic staff members were not interviewed as part of the OIG’s inspection, as they were not U.S. Government employees.

Interviews and evidence collection

The victim was subsequently interviewed on several occasions by federal law enforcement agents, with the assistance of an interpreter. During the course of subsequent interviews, Victim I elaboraled on the details of the ongoing sexual abuse to which Labib Chammas subjected her to between August 2010 and February 2013.

On February 13. 2013, DS Agents conducted a voluntary interview of Labib Chammas. Labib Chammas stated that he had threatened to call the police on his domestic staff or fire the domestic staff because he believed they were stealing from him. Labib Chammas stated that he had received back and leg massages from two staff members, a male employee, witness 2, and the victim, viclim l, because he would get pain in his hip due to a medical issue. DS Agents asked Labib Chammas if the massages ever involved sexual acts, to which Chammas stated “l don’t recall.” and that it might have happened.

In light of the disclosures of Victim l, on February 19, 2013, DS Agents obtained a search warrant for the DCM’s Residence to obtain possible biological evidence. On February 20,2013. a DS agent and a RSO entered the DCM’s Residence in order to execute the search and seizure warrant.

DS Agents photographed the residence and “TV room” prior to any search. DS Agents conducted an inspection of the “TV room” with an altemative light source (ultraviolet light) and discovered possible biological evidence on two couch cushions, the front couch skirt, and locations on the carpet in front of the couch. DS Agents photographed and seized the two couch cushion covers and swabbed the other surfaces.

The FBI DNA Laboratory, Nuclear DNA Unit, conducted serological and DNA testing on the items seized in the execution of the search warrant. Semen was identifled on the swab from front right skirt of couch from the “TV room.” DNA testing confirmed that Labib Chammas was the source of the DNA obtained from the semen stain on the front right skirt of the couch. Based on a statistical probability calculation in which probability of selecting an unrelated individual at random having a matching profile to the DNA obtained was equal to or less than 1 in 6 trillion individuals.

An Arrest Warrant for Labib Chammas was issued by the U.S. District of the District of Columbia on May 13, 2016. In his State of Offense filed in court on October 12, 2016, we learned a few more details:

When the defendant and his wife moved into the DCM Residence in or about August 2010, three household employees were employed there. The defendant and his wife maintained the employ of each of these household staff members during their tenure at the DCM Residence from August 2010 until February 2013. Each of the employees was a Moroccan national who had worked at the DCM Residence and for the Embassy for well over a decade and throughout the tenure of at least the five prior DCM administrations. The defendant took on responsibility for overseeing the day—to-day work of these employees. According to the employees, the defendant was an abusive head—of—household, frequently yelling at the employees, demeaning them, and telling them that they would be fired for failing to live up to his expectations. The employees lived in constant fear that they would lose their jobs.

Among the household staff overseen by the defendant at the DCM Residence was a female cook (hereafter the “victim”), who had worked at the DCM Residence for 16 years by the time the defendant moved into the DCM Residence. The victim, an unmarried Muslim woman, was 53 years old at the time, had a third grade education, and was the sole source of support for her entire family including her elderly parents and several of her siblings and their children, who all lived together in a single residence in Rabat.

The victim did not disclose the above abuse out of fear of losing her job. The above conduct was reported by anonymous letter and came under investigation as a result.

It looks like the DCM’s tenure in Morocco concluded during this investigation in February 2013 but the affidavit and arrest warrant did not happen until May 2016.

Anybody know why there is such a lengthy gap between the investigation conducted in 2013 and filing the case in 2016?

Also a reminder to folks that we’re still searching for the guidance cables on sexual assault reporting for the FS as they are not on the FAM.

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USDOJ Drops US Embassy Yemen Passport Revocation Case Sans Explanation

Posted: 2:16 am ET

 

On October 13, 2015, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California ordered the State Department to return the U.S. passport of Yemeni-American Mosed Shaye Omar which was revoked “based on the involuntary statement he provided at the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a on January 23, 2013.” (See Court orders @StateDept to return Yemeni-American’s improperly revoked U.S.passport). In February 2016, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California issued a cross motions for summary judgment: “This lawsuit presents the question of whether the United States government may revoke a United States citizen’s passport based solely on a purported “confession” that the citizen did not write, dictate, read, or have read to him, but did in fact sign. On the record before the Court, the answer is no.” (see more Omar v. Kerry, et.al: Passport Revocation “Arbitrary and Capricious,” New Hearing Ordered Within 60 Days).

On October 5, 2016, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of California asked to drop the case “without prejudice.”  We’re wondering how many more of these revocation cases would mow be dropped and sealed in court.

Via Politico:

Federal prosecutors — acting abruptly and without public explanation — have moved to drop a controversial criminal passport fraud case that critics alleged stemmed from coercive interrogations at the U.S. embassy in Yemen.

Earlier this year, a grand jury in San Francisco indicted Mosed Omar on passport fraud charges linked to a statement he signed during a 2012 visit to the U.S. diplomatic post in the unstable Middle Eastern nation.
[…]

Thursday afternoon, prosecutors submitted a brief court filing asking to drop the criminal case “without prejudice,” meaning it could be refiled. U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer will need to approve the dismissal of the case.

Spokesmen for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco did not respond to messages seeking an explanation for the sudden move.
[…]
In response to a query Thursday from POLITICO, a spokesman for State Inspector General Steve Linick confirmed that an inquiry is underway into the allegations about improper passport revocations

“In June 2016, State OIG’s Office of Evaluations and Special Projects initiated a review of the Department’s processes of passport confiscations and revocations at the US Embassy Sanaa, Yemen,” spokesman Doug Welty said. He offered no additional details on the review.

If the case against Omar went forward, prosecutors might have been obligated to turn over to the defense some or all records of the IG review. That prospect may have contributed to the proposed dismissal, but there was no direct indication.

Read more:

 

Related posts:

 

 

 

Snapshot: US Embassy Kabul Operations and Maintenance Costs, April 2011-Sept 2016

Posted: 1:01 am ET

 

Via State/OIG

Screen Shot

 

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Oh Damn and Blast! @StateDept’s Administrative Leave Data Is One Hot Mess

Posted: 3:32 am ET

 

According to State/OIG, administrative leave is granted to employees as an authorized absence from duty without loss of pay or use of leave for various reasons unrelated to employee conduct, such as blood donations and weather-related closures. It may also be granted to employees who are under investigation for misconduct.  Senator Charles Grassley asked State/OIG for a description of the State Department’s administrative leave policies and the controls in place to prevent extensive use of administrative leave. On October 3, State/OIG posted online its report, Department of State Has Administrative Leave Policies but Lacks Complete and Accurate Data on the Use of Leave.

In response to the congressional request, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) evaluated the use of administrative leave at the Department of State (Department). The objectives of the evaluation were (1) to describe the Department’s administrative leave policies and (2) to determine the amount of administrative leave Department employees used from January 2011 to January 2015 and the circumstances surrounding the use of such leave.

State/OIG obtained data on administrative leave granted to Department employees from 2011 through 2015 from the Bureau of Human Resources (HR). For several of these employees, OIG also reviewed select records from the Time and Attendance Telecommunications Line (TATEL) system, the Department’s time and attendance tracking system.

Excerpt from OIG report:

  • At the Department of State, administrative leave can be authorized in 26 circumstances not related to conduct. Employees under investigation for misconduct may also be placed on administrative leave if their continued presence in the workplace may pose a threat to the employee or to others, may result in loss of or damage to government property, or may otherwise jeopardize legitimate government interests. Conduct- related administrative leave over 16 hours may only be granted by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Human Resources.
  • OIG intended to determine the amount of administrative leave used by Department employees from January 2011 to January 2015 and the circumstances surrounding the use of such leave. However, the Department did not provide OIG with sufficient data to make these determinations. Consequently, OIG is unable to make any assessments about the Department’s use of administrative leave. OIG identified two key deficiencies in the data the Department provided: (1) the Department lacks a centralized source of information regarding the justification for why administrative leave is granted and (2) HR data on the hours of administrative leave used conflicts with data from individual employing offices.

Administrative Leave Not Related to Conduct: 26 Circumstances

  • There are 26 circumstances not related to conduct where administrative leave can be authorized. These circumstances include Federal holidays, voting, hazardous weather conditions, packing.unpacking, blood/organ donation, funerals, time zone dislocation adjustment period to name a few and several miscellaneous reasons like group dismissals for a reasonable period due to extreme climatic conditions; civil disturbance; transportation failure; breakdown of heating/cooling systems; natural disaster, etc.; jury duty; and absence due to an injury incurred while serving abroad and resulting from war, insurgency, mob violence or hostile action.  The amount of time authorized by the FAM and the FAH for administrative leave in these circumstances varies from one hour to one year.
State/HR’s Unreliable Data
  • In response to OIG’s request for information on administrative leave granted to Department employees, HR provided a report created by CGFS using TATEL data transferred to the payroll system. According to this data, the Department recorded 8.36 million hours of administrative leave for 33,205 employees from January 2011 to January 2015; however, their data was unreliable. Specifically, OIG identified two key deficiencies in the data that the Department provided. […] Currently, the only way to determine the justification for an employee’s administrative leave is to review the timesheet, ask the employee, or ask the employing bureau. The Department is currently updating its payroll systems, including modernization of its time and attendance systems. Once this project is completed, there will be more information available on specific uses of administrative leave. However, there is no expected completion date for the project.
  • OIG selected the 100 employees with the most hours of recorded administrative leave based on HR’s data and requested the justification from the applicable employing bureaus.17 According to the data provided by HR, these 100 employees recorded over 320,000 hours of administrative leave during the period under evaluation. However, after reviewing the information the bureaus provided, OIG found that administrative leave hours reported by HR were incorrect for 84 of these 100 employees (84 percent). Four of the employees were on work-related travel as opposed to on administrative leave. The other 80 employees were at work on regular duty between January 2011 and January 2015—with the exception of holidays, scheduled sick and annual leave, and weather-related closures—and their time and attendance records maintained by their employing bureau did not support the large amounts of administrative leave indicated by the HR data. OIG interviews with several employees and supervisors corroborated this information.
  • Although HR officials told OIG that timekeeping error was the most likely source of the discrepancies between the HR data and the information provided by the employing bureaus,19 reports from TATEL reviewed by OIG demonstrated that timekeeper error does not explain the entirety of the large balances of the administrative leave indicated by the HR data.20

Administrative Leave Related to Conduct

  • OPM guidance states that administrative leave should be used only as “an immediate, temporary solution to the problem of an employee who should be kept away from the worksite.”13 OPM also recommends that administrative leave “should not be used for an extended or indefinite period or on a recurring basis” and agencies should “consider other options prior to use of administrative leave.”
  • Department policies follow this guidance and contain several controls to ensure that administrative leave is used only as a temporary solution for employees who should be kept out of the workplace. The FAM defines conduct-related administrative leave as leave authorized “when an investigation, inquiry, or disciplinary action regarding the employee’s conduct is pending, has been requested, or will be requested within 2 workdays, and the continued presence of the employee in the workplace may pose a threat to the employee or to others, or may result in loss of, or damage to, U.S. government property, or may otherwise jeopardize legitimate U.S. Government interests
  • The Deputy Assistant Secretary told OIG that he and his staff carefully scrutinize each request to ensure that there is sufficient documentation that an employee’s continued presence in the workplace poses an actual problem. They also encourage the bureau to explore other alternatives and have, in some cases, referred the issue to the Office of Civil Rights, the Office of the Ombudsman, or the Bureau of Medical Services. The Deputy Assistant Secretary has disapproved administrative leave requests when alternatives exist or when there is insufficient documentation of a problem.
  • Even when HR approves a request for administrative leave, leave is only authorized for a 30 day maximum. According to HR, this incremental approach ensures that it will reevaluate the employee’s status periodically to determine whether administrative leave continues to be necessary. HR identified three main justifications to place an employee on administrative leave for over 16 hours:
  1. loss of security clearance
  2. medical-related issues
  3. violence or threatening conduct

63,000 Hours in a 4-Year Period

  • Despite these deficiencies, OIG found that more complete information exists for employees on conduct-related administrative leave. For example, sixteen of the 100 employees OIG reviewed had accurately recorded administrative leave and 15 of these were conduct-related cases. For each of these cases, HR confirmed that it had followed Department policy in granting administrative leave to ensure that the employee’s continued presence in the workplace posed a serious problem. These employees represented approximately 63,000 hours of administrative leave in the four-year period
  • According to HR, one of the reasons for these large balances is the difficulty in finding alternative work assignments or locations for employees who are on administrative leave because their security clearances have been suspended. The nature of the Department’s work limits the number of positions for which a security clearance is not required. Department offices may have unclassified work that employees can perform, but those employees would have to be escorted and monitored because most offices are secure spaces. Furthermore, employees who have had their clearances suspended may pose a risk even in unclassified areas.

The original report is posted here (PDF), or read in full below (click on the arrow at the lower right hand side of the box below to maximize view).

Related posts:

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@StateDept Updates Its Polygraph Policy: Are Results Shared For Security Clearance/Assignment Purposes?

Posted: 1:26 am ET

 

On September 1, 2016, the State Department updated its 12 FAM 250 policy on the use of the polygraph to examine Department employees (including employees on the General Schedule, the Foreign Service, on Personal Service Contracts, Limited NonCareer Appointees, and Locally Employed Staff).  

Per 12 FAM 251.2-2, the Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence (DS/DO/ICI) Counterterrorism Vetting Unit (CCV) administers the polygraph program and is responsible for hiring polygraph examiners, responding to requests for polygraph support, deploying polygraph examiners, and maintaining relevant records.

The update includes the following:
  • Streamlines the polygraph examination process by removing a requirement to seek pre-approval before a DS or OIG agent can ask an employee if s/he is willing to submit to a polygraph.
  • Authorizes a DS agent or Department OIG investigator to alert an employee or contractor, currently subject to a criminal, personnel security, or counterintelligence investigation, that s/he has the option to undergo an exculpatory polygraph examination, rather than limiting exculpatory polygraphs to cases where it is initiated by the individual under investigation.
  • Allow polygraphs of Department employees detailed to federal agencies (in addition to the NSA, CIA, and DIA) when the relevant agency requires a polygraph to be detailed to the position. Polygraphs of employees detailed to agencies other than the NSA, CIA, or DIA will be considered on a case-by-case basis and will require approval from the Under Secretary for Management.
  • Limits the scope of polygraph examinations of Department detailees to other federal agencies to counterintelligence topics for all detailees.
  • Formalize existing processes for polygraph examination of certain locally employed staff, in accordance with the approvals specified in the polygraph policy

Back in May 2015, we questioned the use of the CIA’s polygraph exams of State Department employees (see AFSA Elections: What’s Missing This Campaign Season? Fire, Ice and Some Spirited Debates, Please).

Do you know that Department employees who take the CIA’s polygraph examination for detail assignments will have the  results of their polygraph provided to DS and HR for security  clearance and assignment purposes?  A source told us that “In and of itself, it does no  harm if the CIA retains them for its clearance purposes, but it can  have an unanticipated negative impact when indiscriminately released  by the CIA to third parties, like DS and HR, who use them in violation of the CIA’s restrictions to the Department  and assurances to the examinees.”  If this affects only a fraction of the Foreign Service, is that an excuse not to do anything about it, or at a minimum, provide an alert to employees contemplating these detail assignments?

We’ve recently discovered a newly posted grievance case dated March 2010. We don’t know why this is currently on display upfront on fsgb.gov.  In any case, this is related to the subject of polygraph examination.

On June 24, 2009, grievant, a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer, appealed to the FS Grievance Board the State Department’s (Department) denial of his grievance with respect to the use of the results of a polygraph exam he took in 2003 in conjunction with a detail to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Grievant claims the improper handling and use of the results of that exam violated the Department’s own regulations (12 FAM 250) and resulted in his having been denied a Presidential Appointment as a Chief of Mission (Ambassador).  The ROP includes some interesting interrogatories:

#1: Has the Department ever obtained a Department employee’s polygraph examination results from the CIA for a personnel security background investigation based on the employee’s SF-86 signed release? If so, please describe the circumstances under which this would occur.

The Department objected to answering this interrogatory on the grounds that is was overbroad, immaterial, and irrelevant.

IR #6e for Diplomatic Security Case Officer for the second background investigation: Have you ever requested an employee’s polygraph results from the CIA before? If so, under what circumstances‘?

The Department found this interrogatory overbroad, irrelevant, and immaterial.

Ruling on IR #6e: Under the more ample concept of relevance applied at the discovery stage, the Board finds that the information requested is sufficiently relevant to grievant’s claims or likely to lead to the discovery of information relevant to such claims to compel discovery. The information requested may help to clarify the Department’s practice in applying the regulations governing the use of polygraphs that are issue in this case. We do not find the request to impose such a burden on the Department as to outweigh the potential usefulness of the information requested. The Department is directed to respond.

IR # 7h for Diplomatic Security: Does DS routinely request and receive polygraph examination results on all Department employees who have taken polygraph examinations at the CIA as part of their routine background security investigations?

The Department objected to this interrogatory as irrelevant and immaterial in all respects.

The Department was directed to respond to grievant’s Interrogatories 6e and 7h not later than 20 days after receipt of the order but we have been unable to find the decision on this case.

 

On June 24, 2009, grievant filed a grievance appeal, claiming improper use by the Department (Department, agency) of the results of a polygraph examination he had taken in conjunction with a detail from the Department to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  The grievant makes several specific claims:

1) that the CIA provided the results of the polygraph to a Diplomatic Security (DS) agent in the Department, in violation of Department regulations and CIA policy;
2) that the Department requested and/or received the polygraph results from the CIA, in violation of its own regulations;
3) that the Department improperly used the polygraph results in the course of security update investigations; and
4) that the Department improperly provided information drawn from the polygraph to the Director General (DG), which resulted in the DG withdrawing grievant’s nomination to be a chief of mission. The FSGB Board finds that it has jurisdiction over the claims presented by the grievant.

 

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US Embassy Belize: Three DCMs+Two Senior Manager Curtailments Since 2014, and More

Posted: 2:53 am ET

 

State/OIG inspected the US Embassy in Belmopan, Belize from February 29 to March 11, 2016. According to the report, Embassy Belmopan’s authorized staffing includes 40 U.S. direct hires, 10 U.S. local hires, and 106 locally employed (LE) staff. The embassy’s FY 2015 budget, including all agencies, was approximately $35 million, which included $6.5 million in Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL)-managed foreign assistance and $19 million in Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations funds. Belize’s capital, Belmopan, is approximately 90 minutes away from the much larger Belize City, the country’s economic, political, and cultural hub. This distance affects access to professional contacts, medical services, and cultural and entertainment activities. See the full report here (PDF), or read the quick summary below:

bh-map

Report summary:

  • Despite logistical difficulties inherent in the distance between the capital and the much larger Belize City where most government officials reside, the Ambassador had cultivated relationships with the highest levels of the Belizean Government. This enabled the mission to promote U.S. Government interests.
  • The lack of internal controls over non-official use of government resources weakened safeguards against waste, loss, unauthorized use, or misappropriation of funds, property and other assets.
  • The Bureau of Human Resources, Office of Overseas Employment, had not responded to three long-standing embassy requests submitted as part of the requirement to change the local compensation plan. Premium rates and use of compensatory time were inconsistent with local law and prevailing practice.
  • Embassy Belmopan’s ClassNet equipment and architecture were significantly outdated compared to that deployed worldwide. A planned Global Information Technology Modernization upgrade was cancelled without warning as part of a worldwide suspension of installation activities.

US Embassy Belmopan is headed by non-career appointee, Carlos R. Moreno who assumed charge as Ambassador to Belize  on June 21, 2014. His deputy is DCM Adrienne Galanek who arrived in September 2015. According to the OIG report, there had been three DCMs and two senior manager curtailments “due to personal and performance issues since June 2014.”  

Excerpt below:

Embassy Belmopan was striving to manage mission resources and personnel more effectively. Most country team members were serving in leadership positions for the first time, and some section chiefs were also working outside of their areas of expertise. Embassy leadership was focused on advancing U.S. interests, developing a more collegial atmosphere, and improving internal controls.

Embassy Belmopan was striving to manage mission resources and personnel more effectively. Most country team members were serving in leadership positions for the first time, and some section chiefs were also working outside of their areas of expertise. Embassy leadership was focused on advancing U.S. interests, developing a more collegial atmosphere, and improving internal controls.

OIG conducted 49 documented interviews of U.S. staff, 26 of which elicited comments on the Ambassador and Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM). Confirming the results of OIG’s pre-inspection survey, interviewees consistently expressed the opinion that both the Ambassador and DCM were approachable, concerned for the welfare of their staff, and had strong interpersonal skills, all of which are leadership attributes emphasized in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214. For example, the Ambassador and DCM demonstrated their commitment to embassy safety and morale when deciding how to allocate the sole U.S. direct-hire position received through the Mission Resource Request process. Compelled to choose between an additional political reporting position and a Foreign Service nurse practitioner position, they opted for the latter to mitigate Belize’s limited health care facilities and improve employee access to skilled medical care. The interagency community, which consisted of the Peace Corps, the Military Liaison Office, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, all gave the Ambassador and DCM high marks for their efforts to foster cooperation throughout the mission.

Nonetheless, the Ambassador’s scores in OIG’s inspection survey, which evaluates ambassadors on more than a dozen leadership attributes, were lower in several categories than the average range seen in embassy inspections over the past 5 years. These leadership categories included communication, engagement, and feedback—all crucial factors in ensuring a well-managed embassy. Employees referred to the Ambassador and DCM as a good team that worked hard to cultivate a collaborative atmosphere, but employees also stated that the Ambassador and DCM had only partially succeeded in attaining this goal. Staff consistently described the DCM as overworked and struggling to resolve intersectional squabbles. OIG found that lengthy staffing gaps and the inexperience of several country team members had strained work interactions and contributed to low morale. Since June 2014, three DCMs and two senior managers had curtailed due to personal and performance issues, departures that hampered team building efforts.

OIG observations and employee interviews indicated a mission working to accomplish U.S. objectives. However, the front office often took weeks to clear and approve cables, memoranda, and embassy notices.

Yay!

  • An OIG review of the Ambassador’s and DCM’s claims for official residence and representational expenses and gift records determined that they both adhered to applicable regulations and to the 3 FAM 1214 principle that all employees model integrity.
  • The DCM performed nonimmigrant visa adjudication reviews, a required element of consular internal controls, as prescribed by 9 FAM 403.9-2(D).
  • The Department rated Belize high for crime. All embassy personnel who completed OIG surveys stated that the Ambassador and DCM supported the embassy security program as required by the President’s Letter of Instruction and 2 FAM 113.1(c)(5). The embassy was up-to-date on all emergency drills.
  • Props for Consular Section chief, Yomaris Macdonald: “Consular management and operations, including management controls, met Department standards. OIG reviewed emergency preparedness, visa adjudication standards, fee and controlled item reconciliation, and Regional Consular Officer reports and found no deficiencies. The Ambassador, DCM, consular officers, LE staff, Regional Consular Officer, and Bureau of Consular Affairs managers uniformly cited the Consular Section chief for her leadership skills.”


Yo, Tsk! Tsk!

  • Inspection surveys and interviews indicated that more front office attention to management operations was warranted.
  • The First-and Second-Tour (FAST) officer and specialist program had been dormant for several years.
  • The Bureau of Human Resources, Office of Overseas Employment, had not responded to three long-standing embassy requests submitted as part of the requirement to change the local compensation plan.
  • The ClassNet local area network was old and unreliable. The last equipment refresh or upgrade was in July 2010, making Embassy Belmopan’s ClassNet equipment and architecture significantly outdated compared to that deployed worldwide.
  • The Information Management Office was not conducting Information Systems Security Officer duties as required by 12 FAM 613.4 and 12 FAH-10 H-112.9-2. The person assigned these responsibilities was unaware of his assignment, nor had he completed the training requirement for the position.
  • Record Keeping Did Not Comply with Archiving Requirements
  • Lack of Management Controls Risked Inappropriate Use of Staff and Resources

The OIG Inspection Team was composed of Amb. Joseph A. Mussomeli, the team leader, John Philibin, the deputy team leader and the following members: William Booth, John Bush, Ronda Capeles, Darren Felsburg, Leslie Gerson, Michael Greenwald, Edward Messmer, Matthew Ragnetti, and Colwell Whitney.

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Another Concerned DS Agent Pens Response to Diplomatic Security’s Broadcast Message on Sexual Harassment

Posted: 3:42 am ET

 

We received the following via email from “Another Concerned DS Agent” in response to our post: PDAS Miller Issues Sexual Harassment Message to Diplomatic Security Employees, What’s Missing?:

After DSS* Director Bill Miller felt the need on Friday afternoon to defend the agency in a DS Broadcast message against your post titled, “Inbox: Female Diplomatic Security Agent Pens a Note on Sexual Harassment and Career Suicide”, I decided I had seen enough when it came to empty lip service within the department, and specifically DS.

Director Miller’s DS Broadcast reiterated Department policy and stated “as a law enforcement organization, we are held to the highest standard of ethical conduct.” While I commend Director Miller for sending these words, this is not something that actually happens on a day-to-day basis within both State, and specifically DS. Director Miller either doesn’t know what happens within his own bureau or turns a blind eye – like much of DS leadership. The anonymous female agent hit the nail on the head – complaining leads to career suicide!

Last year I watched as a colleague of mine blew the whistle on a hostile work environment and a bullying supervisor. Numerous previous supervisors of the bully supervisor were aware of the bullying actions (which included screaming at subordinate employees and threatening them with written reprimands) and none of them did anything about it – they just passed the problem on to the next guy. And when the highest ranking person in the office refused to deal with my colleague’s issue, it was elevated to the Office Director. When the Office Director refused to deal with the issue, it was elevated to the DAS level. And what was the DAS’ resolution? Reassigning the whistleblower! What kind of message does that send to employees?

I commend the anonymous female agent’s courage for speaking up, as whistleblower retaliation — for any offense, sexual or otherwise — is a real problem within the Department. And so long as OSI** is the only recourse we have (since State OIG refuses to investigate employee misconduct) employees are left without protection.

 

*DSS stands for Diplomatic Security Service.  OSI** stands for the Diplomatic Security’s Office of Special Investigations, apparently also known sometimes as Professional Responsibility (PR) or the Special Investigation Division (SID).  Within Diplomatic Security, it is the  primary office that investigates employee misconduct. A separate source informed us there is a concern out there about conflicts of interest. OSI reports internally to the bureau which results in something like this: State Dept Security Officer Alleged Sexual Misconduct: Spans 10 Years, 7 Posts. OSI employees also rotate/bid/lobby for future assignments like the rest of the Foreign Service. For more on this, read State/OIG on Diplomatic Security’s Special Investigations Division – The Missing Firewall.

As to the OIG — the OIG’s latest semi-annual report to the Congress indicates that 9% of the cases it closed between 10/1/2015–3/31/2016 were categorized as employee misconduct. So we know that State/OIG investigates employee misconduct. However, an overwhelming majority of cases it closed are related to contract and procurement fraud which constitutes 50% of the cases.  We don’t know what happens if somebody brings in an allegation of sexual harassment to the Inspector General, so we asked.

If somebody from DS complains to OIG about sexual harassment, what is the OIG’s response? Does it hand off the case to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) or back to Diplomatic Security (DS), or to the Director General/Human Resources (DGHR)?
We also wanted to know if there’s an instance when OIG would take on a sexual harassment complaint for further investigation? And if not, would it make a difference if there are multiple allegations?

 

Here is the OIG’s full response to our questions:

 

The OIG takes allegations of sexual harassment very seriously. As a general matter, OIG refers allegations of sexual harassment, equal employment opportunity, and/or potential hostile work environment to the Department’s Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR), consistent with the FAM. However if such matters appear systemic, then OIG may investigate. Indeed, in its report “Review of Selected Internal Investigations Conducted by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security” (ESP-15-01) OIG examined the case of a Diplomatic Security manager with a long history of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations dating back 10 years.

Additionally, Department employees who believe they have been subjected to whistleblower retaliation may contact OIG or the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). OIG can help the individual in understanding their rights and may investigate the retaliation, as well as alert the Department to any illegal reprisal.

 

The Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) . Which can’t be bothered to answer a simple question. Ugh! The OIG’s Whistleblower Protection page is here.  Click here for the OIG Hotline.  The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is here.

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Related posts:

 

 

State/OIG Reviews @StateDept Policies and Controls Protecting PII and National Security Data

Posted: 2:03 am ET

 

State/OIG recently posted online its review of the State Department’s policies and controls protecting personally identifiable information (PII) data and national security data. Below is an excerpt:

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016,1 Section 406, Federal Computer Security, requires the Inspector General of each covered agency to submit a report that contains a description of controls utilized by covered agencies to protect sensitive information maintained, processed, and transmitted by a covered system. Specifically, the Consolidated Appropriations Act requires a description of controls utilized by covered agencies to protect two types of data contained within covered systems: personally identifiable information (PII) data and national security data. Information related to national security data is covered in a classified annex to this information report.
[…]
Specifically, Williams Adley selected and reviewed 4 systems from a Department-provided listing of 216 systems (Electronic Medical Records System (eMED), Integrated Personnel Management System (IPMS), Consular Consolidated Database (CCD), and Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS)) that provide access to PII. In addition, Williams Adley reviewed 2 National Security Systems (NSS) from a Department-provided listing of 60 systems (Chief of Mission and Special Embassy Programs Database (NSDD 38), and Principal Officers Executive Management System (POEMS)).

This report describes the policies and controls used by the Department for five specific topics identified in the Act:

(1) logical access policies and practices;

The review found only two of the six systems reviewed (eMED and IPMS) had system-specific logical access control policies.

(2) logical access controls and multi-factor authentication used;

With respect to why logical access controls or multi-factor authentication are not being used, according to Department officials, two of the six systems (IPMS and one NSS) did not implement multi-factor authentication to govern system-level privileged user access because functional capabilities are not available. According to Department officials, IPMS is currently planning multi-factor implementation, while the one NSS is waiting for the Department to provide the functional capabilities necessary to implement multi-factor authentication to govern privileged user logical access.

(3) the reasons logical access controls or multi-factor authentication have not been used;

With respect to access and multi-factor authentication, Williams Adley found the Department has not fully implemented multi-factor authentication at the entity level; however, it had implemented other logical access compensating controls to govern privileged user access. Four of the six systems reviewed (eMED, CCD, CLASS, and one NSS) had either fully or partially implemented multi-factor authentication to government system-level privileged user logical access. The two systems that did not utilize multi-factor authentication to govern logical access of privileged users (IPMS and one NSS) relied on username and password combinations. Nevertheless, all six systems had some type of logical access controls in place.

(4) information security management practices used for covered systems;

With respect to information security management practices used for covered systems, Williams Adley found the Department uses a federated model to manage software inventory. In addition, the Department has implemented a defense-in-depth information system program. Further, the Department monitors network traffic, detects and responds to incidents, and scans for security compliance and vulnerabilities. However, the Department has only partially implemented a data loss prevention system and has not implemented digital rights management technology.

(5) policies and procedures that ensure information security management practices are effectively implemented by other entities such as contractors.

With respect to policies and procedures that ensure information security management practices are effectively implemented by other entities such as contractors, Williams Adley found the Department has a number of policies related to this topic. The relevant Department policies and procedures are established within the Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM).

The report notes that the Bureau of Information Resource Management, the Executive Secretariat’s Office of Information Resource Management, and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, provided comments to a draft of the report. Because the comments were marked sensitive, the comments have been reprinted, in their entirety, in the classified annex of the report (AUD-IT- 16-45A).

The publicly available report is available here: https://oig.state.gov/system/files/aud-it-16-45.pdf

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