Ex-FSO Indicted For Concealing Information in Background Investigation

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On April 2, the Department of Justice announced the indictment of a former State Department employee, a Foreign Service officer for “intentionally concealing information on his SF-86 background investigation questionnaires and in interviews with State Department background investigators.”
Congressional record indicates that a Paul M. Guertin of RI was confirmed by the U.S. Senate by voice vote on October 21, 2011  for his appointment as Foreign Service Officer of Class Four, Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America.
 Via USDOJ: Former State Department Employee Indicted for Concealing Information in Background Investigation

Paul Michael Guertin (“Guertin”), 40, of Arizona and former resident of Washington, DC, was indicted on March 29, 2021 by a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia for wire fraud and obstructing an official proceeding. The indictment was announced by Acting U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips and Special Agent in Charge Elisabeth Heller, of the U.S. Department of State, Office of Inspector General.

Guertin was a Foreign Service Officer who served on multiple State Department assignments, including overseas postings to U.S. diplomatic missions in Shanghai, China and Islamabad, Pakistan, and a posting to the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at State Department headquarters in Washington, DC. As a condition of his employment, Guertin was required to apply for and maintain a Top Secret security clearance.  According to the indictment, Guertin intentionally concealed information on his SF-86 background investigation questionnaires and in interviews with State Department background investigators. He withheld information about several categories of conduct, including an undisclosed sexual relationship with a Chinese national, whose U.S. visa application was adjudicated by Guertin while he was serving as a consular officer in Shanghai, China; undisclosed gambling debts; and an undisclosed $225,000 loan from two Chinese nationals, who were directed by Guertin to provide $45,000 of the initial disbursement in the form of cash in $100 bills.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence of guilt.  A defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

This matter was investigated by the U.S. Department of State, Office of Inspector General and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christopher Brown and Thomas Gillice, with assistance from Paralegal Specialist Chad Byron.

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SF-86 form clearly states under Penalties for Inaccurate or False Statements that “the U.S. Criminal Code (title 18, section 1001) provides that knowingly falsifying or concealing a material fact is a felony which may result in fines and/or up to five (5) years imprisonment.”
According to the indictment, the Grand Jury was sworn in on January 28, 2021. The indictment includes two offenses: Count One: 18 U.S.C. § 1343: (Wire fraud); Count Two: 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2) (Obstructing an official proceeding) plus Forfeiture: 18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(1)(C); 28 U.S.C. § 2461(c); 21 U.S.C. § 853(p) according to the court filing. Grand juries are composed of 16 to 23 citizens, who hear a wide range of criminal cases and decide whether there is evidence to justify indictments sought by federal prosecutors. To return an indictment, a minimum of 12 members of a grand jury must find probable cause.
Excerpts below from the indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia:

3. During his tenure as a Foreign Service Officer, GUERTIN served on multiple State Department assignments abroad, including postings to diplomatic missions in Shanghai, China and Islamabad, Pakistan. GUERTIN also served at State Department headquarters in the District of
Columbia in the Bureau of Intelligence & Research (“INR”), the State Department’s intelligence office. GUERTIN was later assigned to language training in Taipei, Taiwan.

9. In connection with his initial employment with the State Department and periodic re-investigations, GUERTIN signed and submitted SF-86 forms on or about September 27, 2005; November 19, 2010; and April 3, 2016.

The indictment cites Guertin’s “undisclosed conduct” that includes Undisclosed Romantic Relationship with Chinese National Whose U.S. Visa Application GUERTIN Adjudicated; Undisclosed Financial Problems Due to Gambling; and Undisclosed $225,000 Loan Agreement with Two Chinese Nationals, Collateralized by GUERTIN’s House. The indictment also cites some electronic communication.

15. In or about June 2008, GUERTIN conducted a visa application interview with CHINESE NATIONAL 1 in his capacity as a consular officer at the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai, China. On or about June 11, 2008, GUERTIN favorably adjudicated CHINESE NATIONAL 1’s application for a U.S. visa.

16. Two days later, on or about June 13, 2008, GUERTIN sent CHINESE NATIONAL1 an e-mail stating: “I gave you an interview a few days ago here in Shanghai, and thought you were very cute and interesting! 🙂 Was wondering if you’d be interested in going out for dinner or a bite to eat sometime.” GUERTIN initiated a personal and sexual relationship with CHINESE NATIONAL 1 that lasted through at least in or about July 2009.

26. On or about July 13, 2015, GUERTIN sent an e-mail to an associate requesting an emergency loan of $10,000 in order to pay down his gambling debts in advance of his security clearance re-investigation. GUERTIN stated: “I desperately need 10 dimes to get my [stuff] in order and pass a security clearance review to hold onto my job.” GUERTIN further explained: “Every 5 years the State Dept. does a security clearance re-investigation, and mine is coming up in 3 months, and they’re for sure going to see that my credit score dropped hard from the last time they checked. That will cause them to get suspicious, and then they’ll search my bank account transactions and find all the gambling related [stuff]. . . . [t]hey’1l send me home from Taiwan and if they revoke my security clearance I’Il lose my job within 6 months.”

30. On or about April 15, 2015, GUERTIN directed CHINESE NATIONAL 2 and CHINESE NATIONAL 3 to meet him at a location in the District of Columbia for the purpose of withdrawing $45,000 in cash from their bank account for a further disbursement of the $225,000 loan. GUERTIN instructed them: “Also please ask the bank manager to give you as much as possible of the money in $100 bills so it’s not so ridiculously bulky to carry around and deposit, thx!”

The indictment does not indicate what happened in August 2017 when his employment apparently ended. It is also not clear when and for how long was he posted at INR.
The indictment does not explain Guertin’s relationship with the two Chinese nationals only referred to as Chinese National 2 and Chinese National 3.  Guertin was posted in Shanghai in 2008 which would have been a two-year tour. The loan agreement with the two Chinese nationals allegedly occurred in April 2015. We should learn more if  this case progresses in court.
USA v. Guertin was assigned to Judge Trevor N. McFadden in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. As this article notes, an indictment is not a statement of guilt — it is only a determination that enough evidence exists to move forward with charges. The defendant will have an opportunity to enter a plea. As of this writing, no initial appearance has been noted in court, and no plea has been entered.

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WhatTheWhat? State/OIG Reviewed But Did Not/Not Evaluate @StateDept’s COVID-19 Response

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“The scope of this review was the Department’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic and its plans and procedures for returning employees to offices. As part of this review, OIG did not evaluate whether the Department’s implementation of its plans and procedures effectively safeguarded Department personnel health and safety. In addition, OIG did not include the Department’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution or new policies, such as President Biden’s executive order on required mask wearing, as these occurred subsequent to fieldwork completion. OIG completed this review in Washington, DC, and virtually with officials from U.S. Embassy Baghdad, Iraq; U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan; and Consulate General Frankfurt, Germany. These posts were selected due to OIG’s onsite presence at each post, as well as the varying local responses to the global COVID-19 pandemic, which influenced how the Department’s reopening plans were executed by post management.”

 


 

 

GAP and VOA Whistleblowers Call For Investigation of Ex-USAGM Chief Michael Pack

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On March 18, Government Accountability Project on behalf of federal whistleblowers called for an investigation of the former head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) Michael Pack who reportedly spent nearly $2 million in federal funds investigating Voice of America employees. Excerpt below:
…On behalf of anonymous whistleblowers, alerted Congress and federal whistleblower agencies to new details about sole source, no bid contracts awarded to two law firms by Michael Pack to investigate the employees at the agency he headed, the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM). USAGM is the parent agency of Voice of America (VOA). Until ordered to resign by President Biden on Inauguration Day, Mr. Pack—a Trump administration political appointee—was Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of USAGM.
[…]
After alerting the Congress and the federal whistleblower agencies (the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and the State Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) to Mr. Pack’s misconduct, Government Accountability Project used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain additional details about the sole source, no-bid law firm contracts.
GAP provided a link to USAGM materials released via the latter’s FOIA, available here. Government Accountability Project also sent a supplemental analysis to Congress, OSC, and State/OIG.
Cited among its findings:
  • The total value of all services rendered by McGuireWoods and Caplin & Drysdale (billed and unbilled) was approximately $1.776 million.
  • Over four months, McGuireWoods billed approximately $1.625 million in fees and disbursements based on 5,093 billable hours, an average of approximately $320 for each billable hour.
  • The three activities responsible for over 90 percent of McGuireWoods’ billable hours were: “Document Production” (2,998.10 hours); “Analysis/Strategy” (1,053.40 hours); and “Fact Investigation/Development” (655.80 hours).
  • Over four months, Caplin & Drysdale billed approximately $66,000 in fees and disbursements based on 84.4 billable hours, an average of over $780 for each billable hour.
GAP urge the Foreign Affairs and Appropriations Committees in the House and the Senate, State/OIG and the Office of Special Counsel “to specifically investigate the authority invoked and the representations made by Mr. Pack and others in order to pay these law firms, and any other contractors Mr. Pack hired during his brief and controversial tenure.”
The letter is available to read here.


 

 

 

US Embassy Iraq Contractor Gets $62 Million in @StateDept Contract Dispute Settlement

Updated 10/19/20 4:12 pm PST with the potential value for the design build construction contracts in Thailand and in Namibia. See below.

In October 2009, State/OIG issued its Audit of the Design and Construction of the New Embassy Compound in Baghdad, Iraq (PDF):

“…[W]e found that although the construction of the approximately $600 million NEC in a war zone in 34 months was a significant accomplishment, consid­erable construction deficiencies remained because designs for the facilities had not been completed and approved and quality control and commissioning procedures were inadequate.
[…]
We recommend the Department attempt to recover an estimated $43.2 million from First Kuwaiti to bring construction deficiencies to contract standards.
[…]
we estimated that approximately $33 million should attempt to be recovered from First Kuwaiti for incomplete and undocumented design work. Also, we identified that as a result of First Kuwaiti’s inadequate quality control program, it should be held accountable for additional maintenance charges of approximately $38 million that could carry over into future years. Further, we estimated recovering ap­proximately $3.8 million from First Kuwaiti because commissioning activities either were not performed or were performed incorrectly.

In it’s response, the State Department’s Bureau of Administration said:

“The Contracting Officer will prepare a letter to the Contractor, detailing each of [the OIG] recommendations and request consideration from the Contractor in each amount recommended by the OIG.” The A Bureau requested that OIG provide the Contracting Officer infor­mation detailing the basis for computing the $132 million in costs recommended for recovery from First Kuwaiti. The A Bureau also stated, “The formal process to recover any funds from the contractor will be assessed in terms of overall benefit to the government.”

At that time, State/OIG said:

“The A Bureau’s response meets the intent of OIG’s recommendations to recover $132 million from the contractor attributable to construction deficiencies; incom­plete and undocumented work; additional maintenance charges incurred because of inadequate quality control and commissioning procedures; and contract noncompli­ance, including liquidated damages and interest for an unauthorized advance. OIG and USACE will provide the contracting officer the requested support for the $132 million in questioned contract costs.”

We don’t know what happened to that recommendation for recovery of funds in 2009.
Fast forward to April 23, 2013, the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals (CBCA) issued a decision in First Kuwaiti Trading & Contracting W.L.L. v. Department of State contract dispute (CBCA 3069):
“Appellant, First Kuwaiti Trading & Contracting W.L.L. (First Kuwaiti), filed the instant appeal from a decision of a Department of State (State) contracting officer dated August 10, 2012, denying a claim by First Kuwaiti relating to two unpaid invoices for work performed for State under two contracts at the United States New Embassy Compound in Baghdad, Iraq, contract number SALMEC-06-0049, and its modifications, and contract number SALMEC-05-0020, and its modifications. The parties entered into a settlement agreement with respect to the appeal and filed with the Board a stipulation of settlement, reflecting their amicable resolution of the issues that are the subject of the appeal. The parties have jointly moved the Board to issue a judgment in favor of First Kuwaiti in the amount of $2,547,745.20, to be paid from the permanent indefinite judgment fund, 31 U.S.C. § 1304 (2006). Under their settlement agreement and stipulation, they have agreed that Contract Disputes Act (CDA) interest shall accrue on said judgment amount, beginning on March 23, 2012, and continuing until payment of the judgment is made, and that such interest shall be paid to First Kuwaiti together with payment of the judgment amount.
First Kuwaiti has waived any other claim to interest and/or for any attorney fees and expenses incurred in connection with the appeal. The parties, in their joint motion and under the terms of the stipulation, have agreed that neither party will seek reconsideration of, or relief from, this Board’s decision under Board Rules 26 and 27, respectively, and that neither party will appeal this Board’s decision.”
See the April 23, 2013 full decision (CBCA 3069) here.
Below are the New Embassy Compound Baghdad Contracts that the OIG audited in 2009. Note that the contract numbers cited by the CBCA decision are SALMEC-06-0049 and SALMEC-05-0020 for the New Embassy Compound in Baghdad. In the 2009 OIG audit, the two contracts are listed as SALMEC-06-C0049 and SALMEC-05-C0020; we note the appearance of the letter “C” in the two contracts listed in the 2009 OIG audit  of the New Embassy Compound in Baghdad. (If you know what that means, do let us know).
So that was 2013. For more litigative payments, see @StateDept’s Litigative Payments FY2018-FY2020 Via Judgment Fund-$72,634,701.57.
Five years later, on December 3, 2018, the CBCA issued a “Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Granted In Part” in the First Kuwaiti Trading & Contracting, W.L.L. v. Department of State new contract disputes  marked “CBCA 3506, 6167”:

“First Kuwaiti Trading & Contracting, W.L.L. (FKTC) appealed the denial of its claims by the Department of State (DOS) arising from the construction of the embassy compound in Baghdad, Iraq. FKTC presented approximately 200 cost claims that totaled $270 million. DOS moved for summary judgment on thirteen of those cost claims, challenging FKTC’s reliance upon the War Risks clause, the superior knowledge doctrine, the Changes clause, and the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing as the basis for these claims. DOS also asserts that actions underlying FKTC’s changes claims constitute sovereign acts, precluding liability pursuant to the sovereign acts doctrine.

We grant DOS’s motion regarding the scope of the War Risks clause and superior knowledge doctrine, thereby denying seven of FKTC’s claims that are premised solely upon these bases. We deny DOS’s motion regarding the claims that are also based upon the Changes clause or the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing, finding that there are disputed issues of fact. We also deny DOS’s motion regarding the sovereign acts doctrine, finding that DOS has not established the applicability of that doctrine on the current record. Six of the thirteen claims subject to the motion survive DOS’s challenge on this basis.”

The “Statement of Facts” include:
  • A. Contract Price and Provisions Allowing for Adjustment of Contract Price
  • B. War Risks Clause
  • C. Security Requirements and Warnings
II. FKTC’s Claims Challenged by DOS (it’s quite a read):
  • A. Duck and Cover Alarms
  • B. Rocket Attacks—Three claims
  • C. Equipment Repositioning
  • D. Extra Security
  • E. Retention Bonuses and Danger Pay
  • F. Air Transport—Labor Hours
  • G. Sand and Gravel Double-Handling
  • H. Truck Convoy Delays, Truck and Driver Protection Requirements, and Truck Convoy Support Requirements
  • I. Superior Knowledge Claims
The CBCA’s discussion includes:
  • I. War Risks Clause Does Not Provide for Recovery on the Thirteen Challenged Claims
  • II. FKTC Has Failed To Identify a Sufficient Basis for Its Superior Knowledge Claim
  • III. Disputed Issues of Fact Preclude Summary Judgment on FKTC’s Changes Claims

A. FKTC Has Shown Disputed Issues of Fact with Regard to Changes Clause on Six Claims

B. DOS Has Not Provided Evidence to Support a Sovereign Acts Defense

  • IV. Disputed Issues of Fact Preclude Summary Judgment on FKTC’s Implied Duty of Good Faith and Fair Dealing Claim
  • V. Purported Lack of Contemporaneous Documentation is not Grounds for Summary Judgment
The Board’s decision is that “Respondent’s motion for partial summary judgment is GRANTED IN PART. Appellant’s claims based solely upon the War Risks clause and the superior knowledge doctrine challenged by Respondent are denied. The hearing in this matter will commence on January 22, 2019.”
See the December 3, 2018 decision (CBCA 3506, 6167 ) here.
HOLD ON. We’re just getting to the best part.
On Monday, April 1, 2019. the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals issued “GRANTED IN PART: April 1, 2019” judgement in First Kuwaiti Trading & Contracting, W.L.L. v. Department of State (CBCA 3506, 6167) dispute:

“On March 28, 2019, the parties submitted to the Board a joint motion for judgment on a stipulated settlement. The parties requested that the Board enter judgment in the amount of $62,500,000, with payment to be made through the permanent indefinite judgment fund in accordance with 31 U.S.C. § 1304 (2012). The amount includes all the interest to which appellant is entitled under the Contract Disputes Act. 41 U.S.C. § 7109. The parties have agreed that they will not seek appeal of, reconsideration of, or relief from the Board’s decision.

Decision: The Board GRANTS IN PART these appeals. In accordance with the parties’ joint motion, the Board awards appellant, First Kuwaiti Trading & Contracting W.L.L., the stipulated judgment amount of $62,500,000.”

See the April 1, 2019 decision (CBCA 3506, 6167) here.
So the CBCA document says the contractor presented approximately 200 cost claims that totaled $270 million. It got $62,500,000.
We’re sure the government would argue that this is a win, yeah? On the other hand, $62.5 million is more than the expected US investment in the local economy for the construction of US Consulate General Chiang Mai in Thailand at $45 million plus change. Or three times the USG investment in the local economy for the construction of the US Embassy in Namibia at $17 million.
(Correction: The US Embassy Namibia design build construction contract has a potential value of $173.4million; the New Consulate Compound (NCC) design build construction contract in Chiang Mai, Thailand has a potential value of $156.8 million. Thanks A!).
Oh … what’s that?

 


State/OIG: EUR’s Workforce Diversity Data-Below Department Averages #42outof43

 

Via State/OIG:

 

State/OIG Questions $201.6M in AF’s Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership Spending

 

Via State/OIG:

“AF is not monitoring TSCTP contracts in accordance with Federal and Department requirements. Specifically, OIG found that contracting officer’s representatives (COR) had approved invoices for four contracts without adequate supporting documentation. In addition, they relied on Department of Defense (DoD) partners to monitor contractor performance; however, these DoD partners were not delegated authority to serve in this role, nor were they trained to be government technical monitors or alternate CORs. Furthermore, none of the six TSCTP contracts reviewed had the required monitoring plans, and five contracts were missing Government quality assurance surveillance plans; both plans are essential oversight tools. Lastly, AF was not ensuring that the assistance provided to the host countries was being used to build counterterrorism capacity. AF officials stated that the lack of clear guidance and limited staff contributed to these weaknesses. Because of these weaknesses, OIG considers the $201.6 million spent on these six contracts as potential wasteful spending due to mismanagement and inadequate oversight. OIG is specifically questioning almost $109 million because the invoices lacked supporting documentation. With respect to the grant and cooperative agreement reviewed, both had required monitoring plans included in the files.

OIG also found that AF is not effectively coordinating with stakeholders to execute a whole-of-government initiative. Although TSCTP partner agencies meet to formulate strategic priorities, the execution of activities among the partners in the host countries receiving assistance is insufficient. For example, U.S. Air Force officials said they were not consulted on the plans and construction of a C-130 aircraft hangar on a base that they share with the Nigerian military. Government officials stated that undefined roles and responsibilities, the lack of knowledge management, and staffing shortfalls hinder effective coordination.

The deficiencies identified in this audit have occurred, in part, because AF has not adequately attended to longstanding challenges with the execution of foreign assistance, including the TSCTP. AF officials acknowledged the lack of progress made to address these challenges but stated that the Department has not appropriately prioritized the bureau’s needs. Until these deficiencies are addressed, the Department will have limited assurance that TSCTP is achieving its goals of building counterterrorism capacity and addressing the underlying drivers of radicalization in West and North Africa.”

Snapshot: Top Five Bureaus & Posts With the Highest Number of Sexual Harassment Complaints (2014-2017)

Via State/OIG:

Related post:
State/OIG Releases Long-Awaited Report on @StateDept Handling of Sexual Harassment Reports

 

 

 

State/OIG Releases Long-Awaited Report on @StateDept Handling of Sexual Harassment Reports

On October 2, 2020, State/OIG released its long-awaited report on the State Department handling of sexual harassment, including sexual assault reports in the agency. The IG reviewed the extent to which employees report sexual harassment, how the agency addresses reports, and the extent that State ensures consistent outcomes for individuals found to have engaged in such harassment.
The report notes that both Acting IG Stephen Akard, and his replacement, Acting IK Matthew Klimow “recused themselves from this review and delegated final clearance authority to Deputy IG Diana Shaw.” It looks like this review as initiated by State/OIG in early 2018. The report says that the issuance of this report was delayed because of “the lapse in OIG’s appropriation that occurred from December 21, 2018, through January 25, 2019, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting operational challenges.” We’re curious what happened to this report after the shutdown in January 2019 and before the pandemic was declared on March 11, 2020.
The Office of Civil Rights’ (S/OCR) response to this IG report is dated August 24, 2020; DGHR’s response is dated September 8, 2020.
Sexual harassment, generally a violation of civil laws, while sexual assault usually a reference to criminal acts (penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape; attempted rape; forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetration of the perpetrator’s body; fondling or unwanted sexual touching.
Within State, per 3 FAM 1711.2 says sexual assault is a form of sexual harassment.  Per 3 FAM 1712.2-4, S/OCR has the responsibility for investigating or overseeing investigations of alleged sexual harassment, which may include sexual assault. OIG report notes that it does not generally investigate claims of sexual harassment itself because OCR is specifically designated in the FAM as the responsible entity for investigating alleged sexual harassment. If the allegations rise to the level of a sexual assault, S/OCR will refer the allegations to DS/DO/OSI.
This report is distressing to read, and the underreporting is understandable. Of the 24 cases where misconduct allegations including sexual assaults were substantiated, we don’t know how many were criminally charged. One? None?

(font in blue, lifted from the report)

Office of Civl Rights (S/OCR), Office of Special Investigations (DS/OSI), and Conduct, Suitability, and Discipline Division (GTM/CSD)

      • lacks coordination guidance
      • lacks inter-operability of reporting systems
      • tracking system sucks
      • lacks updated supervisory guides
      • lacks data on the consistency of investigative and disciplinary processes
      • lack timeliness standards 

“OIG could not assess the timeliness of sexual harassment cases because the offices did not have timeliness standards. Additionally, lack of reliable and comprehensive data hampers the Department’s ability to effectively oversee and administer efforts to address sexual harassment.”
[…]
OCR, OSI, and CSD have individual systems to track and monitor sexual harassment cases, but the systems do not track similar data or share data with each other. For example, each office uses different identification numbers for the cases and different names for the subject’s bureau, office, or post. Additionally, OCR and CSD use different definitions when tracking sexual harassment cases. […] the three systems do not share data among each other and the other offices relevant to the disciplinary process. OCR, OSI, and CSD officials stated that only staff of the individual offices have access to the office’s data system and that the offices do not grant access to each other.
[…]
Because the offices lack a mechanism for tracking sexual harassment cases from intake until the final disciplinary action, OIG was not able to determine the length and disciplinary outcomes of all sexual harassment and sexual assault reports to OCR and OSI from 2014 to 2017.

S/OCR investigated just 22% of complaints for possible violations of Department policy

Of the 636 complaints of sexual harassment that OCR received from 2014 to 2017, OCR investigated 142 (22 percent) as possible violations of Department policy.

Top Five Bureaus and Posts With the Highest Number of Sexual Harassment Complaints From 2014 to 2017

      • Consular Affairs
      • Diplomatic Security
      • US Embassy Baghdad, Iraq
      • US Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan
      • Foreign Service Institute

CA, DS, Embassy Kabul, Chennai Consulate, and the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations represented the five bureaus and posts with the highest number of investigations.

Top Five Sexual Assault Complaints by Regional Bureau From 2014 to 2017

      • South and Central Asian Affairs
      • European and Eurasian Affairs
      • Near Eastern Affairs
      • East Asian and Pacific Affairs
      • Western Hemisphere Affairs
      • African Affairs
      • Domestic

Of the 106 complaints received during the relevant time period, 16 were still under investigation; of the 90 investigations OSI had completed, 24 cases (27 percent) had some kind of substantiated misconduct. […] However, this does not mean that 24 cases of sexual assault were confirmed; rather, it means that during the investigation, OSI concluded that some type of misconduct or criminal activity occurred and it was referred it to CSD for possible disciplinary action. In other words, OSI may receive an allegation of sexual assault and, during the investigation, obtain evidence that some other form of misconduct occurred.

Reporting on sexual harassment (63%) and sexual assaults (71%) are up but there are concerns of significant underreporting

According to information obtained by OIG, both through data collection and through interviews with Department employees, reports of sexual harassment increased from 2014 to 2017. OCR officials told OIG that this trend appears to be continuing. Additionally, one employee group expressed concern that sexual harassment is significantly underreported at the Department.

According to OCR data, reports of sexual harassment increased by 63 percent from 2014 to 2017, from 128 reports in 2014 to 209 reports in 2017. An OCR official told OIG that this increase may reflect an increased willingness to report sexual harassment based on an increased focus within the Department on the issue.

Reports of sexual assault have increased as well; OSI data shows a 71 percent increase in the number of reports of sexual assault from 2014 to 2017.

For overseas employees, a bigger challenge

Current and former Department employees interviewed by OIG expressed the belief that, for employees serving overseas, there are no mechanisms in place to hold embassy management accountable for failing to address sexual harassment at post.
[…]
According to OCR data, OCR received 636 complaints of sexual harassment from 2014 to 2017. That’s an average of 212 complaints a year. Of the 636 complaints, 441 originated at overseas posts. An average of 147 cases a year.
[..]
From the beginning of 2014 until the end of 2017, OSI received 106 reports of alleged sexual assault. […] Of the 106 complaints received during the relevant time period, 16 were still under investigation; of the 90 investigations OSI had completed, 24 cases (27 percent) had some kind of substantiated misconduct.
[…]
For cases opened before 2018, OSI did not track substantiated sexual assault allegations as a separate category so OIG could not identify the precise number of sexual assaults.

Underreporting due to lack of confidence in its resolution, fear of retaliation

Based on interviews and the survey of Department employees, OIG identified a number of factors that may contribute to underreporting, including lack of confidence in the Department’s ability to resolve complaints, fear of retaliation, and reluctance to discuss the harassment with others. Of the 154 survey respondents who responded that they experienced or observed sexual harassment within the last 2 years, 73 responded that they did not report the incident to OCR or DS. When asked why they had not reported incidents, of those 73, 25 employees agreed that they did not think that reporting would stop the sexual harassment; 19 employees agreed that they were afraid of retaliation; and 25 employees agreed that they did not want to discuss the incident (see Table 2).

… of the survey participants who experienced or observed sexual harassment but did not report it to OCR or DS, 34 percent stated that they did not do so because they did not think reporting would stop the harassment.

Lack of protection for complainants

Employees who were interviewed and survey respondents stated that another likely cause of underreporting is fear of retaliation. Interviewees told OIG that they do not believe that OCR will protect their identities during the course of the investigation if they do decide to speak out.
[…]
According to the FAM, “the Department will seek to protect the identities of the alleged victim and harasser, except as reasonably necessary (for example, to complete an investigation successfully).” 3 FAM 1525.2-1(d). According to OCR’s guidance for harassment inquiries, however, upper-level management (such as CSD) may need to know the victim’s identity in order to assess the disciplinary action. CSD and L/EMP officials told OIG that employees accused of sexual harassment are entitled to procedural due process if CSD proposes discipline. For sexual harassment cases, this means that the accused receive the OCR investigative file that includes all victim and witness statements, including their names; for sexual assault cases, the discipline package includes OSI’s report of investigation.

“Corridor Reputation”

Employees in interviews also expressed fear that reporting sexual harassment could harm their careers, either through overt retaliation or through the creation of a negative stigma and damage to the reporter’s “corridor reputation.”

One group representing Department employees told OIG that employees who experience sexual harassment are fearful that reporting it will cause their colleagues to view them as “troublemakers.”

Another employee group told OIG that the Foreign Service is a fairly small organization and reporting sexual harassment could give employees a poor reputation that will “follow them to future posts.”

Advised Against Reporting Sexual Harassment

…some Department employees told OIG that they were advised not to report the harassment that they experienced. Four survey respondents who experienced or observed sexual harassment stated that they did not report after being told not to do so.

Intake until Final Action: Length Varied from 139 days to 1,705 days

On average, OIG’s selected cases took 21 months to move from intake to resolution.54 The length of cases varied from 139 days (i.e., almost 5 months) to 1,705 days (i.e., over 4 years)

Final Disciplinary Actions for Selected Cases Ranged from No Action to Suspension

Final disciplinary decisions for OIG’s selected sexual harassment cases ranged from no action to suspension. Although the Department had proposed discipline for 11 of the 20 cases, only 5 resulted in implementation of the disciplinary action.

For example, one case resulted in no action taken after FSGB overturned the Department’s disciplinary decision to issue a Letter of Reprimand. For the three cases resulting in resignations, CSD had decided on either suspensions or separations but ultimately reached negotiated settlements for resignation. One individual retired after receiving CSD’s proposed decision, and another retired as CSD was reviewing the case. According to CSD officials, individuals who retire before a final disciplinary decision do not have the proposal or disciplinary decision included in their official personnel file.

2010-2020! Hello!

CSD has not updated the Foreign Service supervisory guide since 2004 and the civil service supervisory guide since 2007 to reflect sexual harassment policy changes. The supervisory guides aim to help supervisors and managers identify and address conduct and performance problems. The guides discuss the supervisor’s responsibilities, the disciplinary process, and certain types of misconduct. The guides do not, however, explain that supervisors are required to report allegations or observations of sexual harassment to OCR, although doing so has been a requirement in the FAM since 2010.

State/IG surveyed 2000 randomly selected employees and got a 27% response rate

OIG randomly selected 2,000 Department direct-hire employees who were employed as of October 1, 2018. OIG conducted a pre-test of the survey with 20 of the randomly selected employees. OIG surveyed the remaining 1,980 employees and received “undeliverable” responses from 215 email accounts.  A total of 479 employees responded to the survey, accounting for a 27 percent response rate.
[…]
Several factors may have affected the response rate: lack of access to Department e-mail during the 5-week lapse in appropriations; the sensitive nature of the subject; and employees being out of the office during the timeframe.4 Additionally, due to limited resources, OIG did not select a sample of respondents to validate their survey responses. OIG’s statistician analyzed the data by reviewing the responses of survey respondents. OIG also interviewed 10 employees who contacted OIG to share their personal experiences with sexual harassment at the Department. Additionally, OIG interviewed employee groups representing Department employees for additional employee perspectives on sexual harassment.

Related posts from 2014-2016:

 

Hatch Act Complaints Filed Against Most Partisan Secretary of State in Memory #WSOS

 

Spotlight on @StateDept Top Lawyer Marik String’s Experience and Conflict of Interest

The State Department’s official bio says that Marik String was appointed as Acting Legal Adviser of the Department of State on June 1, 2019. Previous to this appointment, the bio says he “served in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, where he performed the duties of the Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs; Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary; and Deputy Assistant Secretary.  He managed more than 400 officers and the U.S. government’s $200 billion annual arms transfer portfolio, including the compliance and enforcement functions under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).”  Prior to his stint at PolMil, he served as Senior Advisor to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, now Ambassador to the Russian Federation.
String’s financial disclosure report says that he joined the State Department as Senior Advisor on July 13, 2017.
A June 13, 2019 reporting on Just Security notes that a “congressman raised his concern that String had been appointed Acting Legal Adviser to the State Department on May 24, “the very day that this emergency declaration was sent to the Hill, according to public records, this is when he got the promotion to be the top lawyer.” String worked for Cooper until May 23.”
That would be Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper who assumed office on May 2, 2019.
We don’t know when this bio went up and if it had been updated.
The Senate-confirmed Legal Adviser Jennifer Newstead’s departure was announced on April 22, 2019. If String wasn’t designated Acting Legal Adviser until June 1, 2019 as his official bio says, then pray tell who blessed Pompeo’s emergency declaration?
Via Just Security:
The newly published IG report does not probe String’s actions once he transitioned from working in the department that oversees FMS [foreign military sales] to working as the State Department’s top lawyer. Nor does it address String’s possible actions regarding the redactions of the report, which were applied, according to the State Department, to “protect executive branch confidentiality interests, including executive privilege.”
But at least two senior State Department officials have testified to String’s conduct: both his work on the emergency waiver and his later interactions with the IG’s office. Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charles Faulkner testified on July 24 that String “identified an ‘authority’ in the law ‘that allow[ed] for an emergency declaration of arms transfers,’” as Democratic members of Congress noted in their subpoena to interview String and others involved in the sale. They further noted:

“On the day of the emergency declaration, May 24, 2019, Mr. String was promoted to Acting State Department Legal Adviser, a position he still holds. When asked about those two events happening on the same day, Mr. Faulkner testified: ‘I think I see the significance of those statements.’”

During Linick’s recent testimony on the matter, he recalled a meeting between himself, String, and the current State Department Under Secretary for Management Brain Bulatao. In this meeting, Bulatao reportedly indicated to the IG that he “shouldn’t be doing the [Iranian Arms Sale investigation] because it was a policy matter not within the IG’s jurisdiction.” During the meeting, String agreed, according to the former IG’s testimony:

HFAC Dem Counsel: So Mr. String said that he didn’t think you should be looking into this, and Undersecretary Bulatao said he didn’t think you should be looking into this. Is that correct?

Linick: That’s correct, yes. Yes.

     Bulatao at times “tried to bully me,” Linick told the HFAC.

Read in full below: