The Cautionary Tale of Raymond Maxwell: When the Bureaucracy Bites, Who Gets The Blame?

— Domani Spero
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Last week, we posted a Snapshot: State Dept Key Offices With Security and Related Admin Responsibilities and wondered why Raymond Maxwell’s former office as Deputy Assistant Secretary at the NEA Bureau did not get an organizational box. Our readers here may recall that Mr. Maxwell was one of the bureaucratic casualties of Benghazi.  Diplomatic Security officials Eric Boswell, Charlene Lamb, Steve Bultrowicz and NEA official, Raymond Maxwell were placed on paid administrative leave on December 19, 2012 following the release of the ARB Benghazi Report. On August 20, 2013, all four officials were ordered to return to duty. Mr. Maxwell officially retired from the State Department on November 30, 2013. Prior to his retirement he filed a grievance case with HR where it was denied and appealed the case to the Foreign Service Grievance Board where it was considered “moot and thus denied in its entirety.”

Our blog post last week, also received the following comment from Mr. Maxwell:

“[M]y grievance was found to have no merit by HR, and earlier this month, the FSGB found that the State Department made no errors in the way I was removed from my position, shamed and humiliated in the press, and placed on admin leave for nine months, Further, the FSGB found that I was not entitled to the public apology I sought in my grievance because I had retired. I have two options now. I can spend a great deal of money suing the Department in local courts, or I can let it go and move on with my life. My choice of the latter option neither erases the Department’s culpability in a poorly planned and shoddily executed damage control exercise, nor protects future foreign service officers from experiencing a similar fate. There is no expectation of due process for employees at State, no right to privacy, and no right to discovery.”

We spent the weekend hunting down Mr. Maxwell’s grievance case online; grievants’ names are redacted from the FSGB cases online. When we finally found it, we requested and was granted Mr. Maxwell’s permission to post it online.

The Maxwell case teaches us a few hard lessons from the bureaucracy and none of them any good. One, when you fight city hall, you eventually get the privilege to leave the premises. Two, when you’re run over by a truckload of crap, it’s best to play dead; when you don’t, a bigger truckload of crap is certain to run you over a second or third time to make sure you won’t know which crap to deal with first. But perhaps, the most disappointing lesson of all — all the good people involved in this shameful treatment of a public servant  — were just doing … just doing their jobs and playing their roles in the proper functioning of the service. No one stop and said, wait a minute …. They tell themselves this was such a  sad, sad case; they feel sorry for how “Ray” was treated. It’s like when stuff happens, or when it falls — se cayó. No one specific person made it happen; the Building made them do it. The deciding officials apparently thought, “This was not an easy matter with an easy and obvious resolution.” Here — have a drink, it’ll make you feel better about looking the other away.  See he was “fired” but he wasn’t really fired.  He was prevented from entering his old office, and then not really. Had he kept quiet and did not write those poems …who knows, ey …

We’re embedding two documents below –1) Maxwell’s FSGB case, also available online here (pdf); and 2) an excerpt from the Oversight Committee report that focused on Mr. Maxwell’s  alleged “fault” over Benghazi. Just pray that this never happens to you.

 

 

Below excerpted from the House Oversight Committee report on ARB Benghazi:

 

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Dear Senior State Department Official – It’s Time to Go

— By Domani Spero

I had to stop watching the Daily Press Briefing – Ms. Harf, the Deputy Spokesperson is way too chirpy for such a serious topic.

In any case, lots of questions about the Other Benghazi Four. We hope to have a recap for that later.  In the meantime, The Daily Beast and a couple other news outlet carried a statement from a senior State Department official (certainly authorized to speak about this but unnamed for a reason) saying this:

“As soon as he came into the department, Secretary Kerry wanted to invest the time to review the ARB’s findings and match those against his own on-the-job findings about security,” the senior State Department official said. “He’s been hands-on focused on building on the lessons learned from the Benghazi attack to strengthen security at missions world-wide and continue the ARB’s security paradigm shift.”

And this:

“[Secretary Kerry] studied their careers and studied the facts,” the official said. “In order to implement the ARB and to continue to turn the page and shift the paradigm inside the Department, the four employees who were put on administrative leave last December pending further review, will be reassigned inside the State Department.”

And just to make sure you you don’t misunderstand, the senior State Department official told The Daily Beast this:

“After consideration, Kerry reaffirmed the ARB’s finding that no employee breached their duty or should be fired but rather that some should be reassigned, the official said. The four individuals are not blameless, and the fact that they will not be returned to the same positions is relevant, the official said.”

Wuh duh ma huh tah duh fong kwong duh wai shung! Holy mother of god and all her wacky nephews!   Two questions:

Who the frack still uses words like “paradigm shift”?

If the four individuals are “not blameless” … well then — who are the individuals blameful for this?

If you think, returning these four to work will end this circus, that couldn’t be more wrong. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) issued the following statement promising an expanded investigation.

Obama administration officials repeatedly promised the families of victims and the American people that officials responsible for security failures would be held accountable. Instead of accountability, the State Department offered a charade that included false reports of firings and resignations and now ends in a game of musical chairs where no one misses a single day on the State Department payroll. It is now clear that the personnel actions taken by the Department in response to the Benghazi terrorist attacks was more of a public relations strategy than a measured response to a failure in leadership.

In the course of our investigation, the Oversight Committee learned that the State Department’s review of these four individuals did not include interviews with them or their supervisors to either substantiate or challenge allegations. The Oversight Committee will expand its investigation of the Benghazi terrorist attack to include how a supposed ‘Accountability Review Board’ investigation resulted in a decision by Secretary Kerry not to pursue any accountability from anyone.

We recognize that Secretary Kerry inherited this baggage from the Clinton tenure.  But it should not have lasted this long.  Eight months long after the ARB report and a month shy of the first anniversary of the Benghazi attack. What were you folks thinking?

Secretary Kerry was ill-served by senior officials in Foggy Bottom protecting their own skin.  When he came into the State Department, Secretary Kerry should have 1) declassified the ARB section laying blame on these four officials, 2) allowed these four officials to see the “evidence” against them and 3) ensured that the four individuals receive legal counsel and had the ability to defend themselves.  Isn’t that how we preach things ought to be done under the rule of law?   And most certainly, the process of evaluating whether or not these four deserves firing or not should have been made public and not done behind locked doors.  Of course, there’s no way to control how things go in the light of day.  But that’s the risk that should have been worth taking.  Right now, the State Department’s doors smell like cow-dung mud bricks. Some house cleaning is in order. This institution deserves more.

Maybe some senior State Department official ought to go spend more time with his family.  It’s time to go.

So I’ll play my role in the mean time
but the curtains have fell, I’ve got no lines
What’s left to say if it’s been said before

I’ve searched my self for an answer I know

It’s time to go

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The Other Benghazi Four: Lengthy Administrative Circus Ended Today; Another Circus Heats Up

— By Domani Spero

They were the bureaucratic casualties of Benghazi.  Diplomatic Security officials Eric Boswell, Charlene Lamb, Steve Bultrowicz and NEA official, Raymond Maxwell were placed on paid administrative leave on December 19, 2012 following the release of the ARB Benghazi Report (See Issa — Kerry Paper Shuffling Saga: What’s With the 7-Month Administrative Leave?).

Today, eight months to the exact day when the four officials were put on ice,  the State Department has reportedly decided to end their administrative leave status.  All  four officials have reportedly been ordered to return to duty tomorrow, August 20 at 9:00 a.m. It is not yet clear what positions they will go back to when they return to Foggy Bottom.   At least one of them, Mr. Boswell already has a successor awaiting Senate confirmation as Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security.

Putting these four back to work, of course, does not answer why they were put on paid admin leave in the first place. But don’t worry. We are confident that the State Department’s spokesman will be able to explain this whole circus to the inquiring public by citing issues of employee confidentiality.

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Meanwhile, the Human Abedin circus appears to heat up without any help from sexting scandal magnet, Carlos Danger.  We should note that we do not believe Ms. Abedin is a Muslim Brotherhood princess sent to infiltrate the United States.  However, we are interested on her special employment arrangement at the State Department following the birth of her child.  The NYT recently reported that the senior Senator from Iowa Chuck Grassley has been asking questions about Huma Abedin’s employment arrangement with the State Department.  The NYT is also curious and fielded its own questions.  The State Department, of course, cited employee confidentiality issues and declined to answer these questions. And that, of course, makes this case even more interesting.

The questions Mr. Grassley and his staff are still seeking answers to include: who in the department specifically authorized the arrangement for Ms. Abedin; who in the department was aware of her outside consulting activities; copies of contracts Ms. Abedin signed with private clients; and the amount she earned from those contracts.

In addition, The New York Times asked the State Department to provide the titles and job descriptions of other individuals the department has permitted to serve in the capacity of special government employee, and whether any of Mrs. Clinton’s other political appointees were given the special designation.

The department has declined to do so, citing issues of employee confidentiality.

The NYT report points out that Ms. Abedin, in addition to being a “special government employee” at the State Department also worked for three other entities:

Ms. Abedin, 37, a confidante of Mrs. Clinton’s, was made a “special government employee” in June 2012. That allowed her to continue her employment at State but also work for Teneo, a consulting firm, founded in part by a former aide to President Bill Clinton, that has a number of corporate clients, including Coca-Cola. In addition, Ms. Abedin worked privately for the Clinton Foundation and for Mrs. Clinton personally.

While Senator Grassley maybe accused of playing politics here, we totally agree with him when he says that “basic information about a special category of employees who earn a government salary shouldn’t be a state secret.”   Further, he also said, “Disclosure of information builds accountability from the government to the taxpaying public. Agencies that lose sight of transparency also lose public trust.”

In a statement to The Times on Sunday, a State Department spokesman said: “Ms. Abedin was invaluable to the secretary and her entire operation, providing a breadth of broad-based and specific expertise from her years in the White House and at the department that was irreplaceable.”

These folks are talking about a special government employee or SGE. The Office of Government Ethics explains:

Congress created the SGE category in 1962 when it revised the criminal conflict of interest statutes. Congress recognized the need to apply appropriate conflict of interest restrictions to experts, consultants, and other advisers who serve the Government on a temporary basis. On the other hand, Congress also determined that the Government cannot obtain the expertise it needs if it requires experts to forego their private professional lives as a condition of temporary service. Since 1962, the SGE category has been used in a number of statutes and regulations as a means of tailoring the applicability of some restrictions.

As defined in 18 U.S.C. § 202, an SGE is an officer or employee who is retained, designated, appointed, or employed to perform temporary duties, with or without compensation, for not more than 130 days during any period of 365 consecutive days. The SGE category should be distinguished from other categories of individuals who serve executive branch agencies but who are not employees, such as independent contractors (who are generally not covered by the ethics laws and regulations at all). Also, although many SGEs serve as advisory committee members, not all members of advisory committees are SGEs.

According to AFSA, the State Department had 104 Schedule C employees in 2012.  However, the personnel statistics we’ve looked at does not specify how many SGEs work at the State Department.  It would be interesting to see how many Schedule C employees also became SGEs and had similar employment arrangements to Ms. Abedin who resigned from State on Feb. 1. If Ms. Abedin became an SGE in June 2012 as reported, and resigned in February 2013, that’s more than 130 days.  It would be shocking, of course, if there are no exemptions to that 130-day rule since Congress made the rule.

The NYT report also cited Ms. Abedin’s response:  “Ms. Abedin, in a letter she wrote last month in response to Mr. Grassley’s inquiry, said she had sought the special status because she had recently given birth to her son and wanted to remain in New York while continuing to work for the department.”

How many other new moms at the State Department wanted that opportunity, too, we wonder?

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Issa — Kerry Paper Shuffling Saga: What’s With the 7-Month Administrative Leave?

— By Domani Spero

On July 31, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa fired another letter to Secretary of State John Kerry inquiring about the status of the four State Department personnel officially assigned blame over the disaster in Benghazi.  Diplomatic Security officials, Eric Boswell, Charlene Lamb, Steve Bultrowicz and NEA official, Raymond Maxwell were placed on paid administrative leave following the release of the ARB Benghazi Report in December 2012.  To-date, these officials have been on bureaucratic limbo with an end promised; though the “when” does not appear to be in sight.

We’ve lost count how many Issa letters are fluttering around the hallways of Foggy Bottom. And we’ve lost count how many pages of paper reportedly have been provided by the State Department to Congress. We heard pages and pages and pages of papers.  We trust that the papers provided actually contained or will contain relevant information, and not the telephone directories or photocopies of the Foreign Affairs Manual or the Foreign Affairs Handbook.

Seriously, we are pissed at this paper shuffling saga playing out between the State Department and Congress.  In a perfect world, the Oversight Committee should focus on what went wrong, what can be done to prevent another Benghazi from happening and forget about 2016.  In a perfect world, the State Department and the CIA should acknowledge their faults and shortcomings in what happened and help the American public understand the human cost of doing work in the dark corners of the world.   That is a naive view, of course.  In the real world, these folks are playing a game of mud, assuring the public that one mud is clearer and cleaner than the other. Frankly, that’s all horseshit, with apology to the horse. And while this game is playing on, there are real life consequences.

The DS bureau has been described as in a “hell of hurt” these days.  Not only because it lost three of its top officials in one messy swoop, but also because one of those officials was an important cog in the assignment wheel of about 1,900 security officers.  If the assignments of DS agents overseas have been a great big mess for the last several months, you may account that to the fact that Ms. Lamb, the person responsible for managing and directing all Bureau of Diplomatic Security programs and policies including personnel, had been put inside a deep freezer.  While planning has never been a State Department strength, succession planning is altogether a foreign object.  No nominee has been announced to succeed Ms. Lamb as Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs.  Robert Hartung, the Assistant Director for Threat Investigation and Analysis Directorate has been appointed the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs according to the DS website.  The State Department telephone directory, however, has not even bothered  to list Mr. Hartung as acting DAS for International Programs.

Note and question of the day:  “Diplomatic Security is under intense pressure following Benghazi so now all resources are put towards “high threat” areas.  Nevertheless, experienced and well regarded DS officers at overseas posts are finding it impossible to stay out – even when they are the first choice for the receiving post.  When it gets to the panel – DS management declines to allow the agents to be paneled for the job.  I’ve known experienced agents being turned down for Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq because they’ve “been out too long.”  This is not an issue for other Foreign Service officers so why is it for Diplomatic Security?”

Got that in our inbox today.  Don’t know the answer except perhaps to point out that there is no/no email inside the freezer.

In any case, Mr. Issa’s July 31 letter to Secretary Kerry provides some interesting items.

1.  Apparently, the Committee has heard testimony from all four individuals faulted by the ARB, as well as their supervisors and colleagues. Witnesses reportedly testified that the Department offered “assurances” to Boswell, Bultrowicz, Lamb and Maxwell that their administrative leave status would be temporary and that they would return to new assignments within the Department.  Those assurances  seem to indicate that  the firing is part of a PR strategy more than accountability. Did State expect all four officials to just stay quiet as rocks until the political storm blows over?   A side note — Gregory Starr, recently nominated to succeed Boswell as top boss of Diplomatic Security praised these officers before Congress for giving “their careers to diplomatic security as well and the security of the Department of State.”  They are all praiseworthy enough that seven months on and the Secretary of State still has no idea what to do with them.

2.  And because Mr. Issa is still enamored with the Benghazi Talking Points, his letter brings up former spokeswoman Victoria Nuland’s “promotion” to be Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.  He also brought up former NEA PDAS Elizabeth Dibble who was recently appointed as Deputy Chief of Mission to London.  And Greg Hicks, former DCM at US Embassy Tripoli who was apparently unable to find a “comparable overseas assignment” ten months after curtailing from Libya.

3. The only person from the NEA Bureau officially assigned blamed by the ARB was Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell.  He was apparently singled out because he stopped attending morning meetings held to read certain intelligence material, which, according to witnesses interviewed by the Committee, contained no information that would have caused Maxwell or anyone else to adjust the security posture at Special Mission Benghazi.  The Acting NEA boss, Ambassador Elizabeth Jones, who supervised Maxwell, reportedly agreed with the ARB’s conclusion that it was inappropriate for Mr. Maxwell to stop attending the daily intelligence read-book meetings. She testified, however, that Maxwell’s failure to read the daily intelligence had no connection to the inadequate security posture of the U.S. mission in Benghazi.  So, of all the people working in the NEA bureau, how did Mr. Maxwell become “it”?

4.  Apparently, neither Ambassador Jones nor Eric Boswell viewed “administrative leave” as a common practice, and according to Mr. Issa’s letter, neither was aware of any prior use of such an extended period of administrative leave.  Neither of them ever heard of Peter Van Buren who was locked out of Foggy Bottom and placed on paid administrative leave for about a year? Well, that is interesting.

5.  Eric Boswell reportedly testified that a State Department senior official told him the period of paid administrative leave would be brief. So, not only temporary but also brief.  Damn, what’s the world coming to … if you can’t even trust a senior State Department official’s words of reassurance.  Mr. Boswell should have had in writing the meaning of the word “brief.”  Just saying.

Mr. Issa’s letter requires answers to the following 10 questions for Secretary Kerry; well he’s the Secretary of State, his staff or those same senior officials will obviously task worker bees to work on an acceptable response to Congress.

  • Who made the decision to place the four individuals named in the ARB report on paid administrative leave?
  • For each of the four individuals on paid administrative leave, when was the decision made and what were the specific reasons for the decision?
  • What is the State Department’s internal definition of paid administrative leave?
  • Please describe any steps the Department has taken to evaluate the respective performances of the individuals who were placed on paid administrative leave.
  • Besides the findings of the ARB, what information is being considered as part of the performance evaluation process?
  • Who is conducting the performance evaluation(s)? Who will make a recommendation regarding how the administrative leave status should be resolved?
  • Is the Department delaying a final determination due to the ongoing congressional investigation or any other ongoing review, including, but not limited to a review being conducted by the Office of the Inspector General? If yes, please identify the investigation or review that is delaying the final determination.
  • Does the Department intend to offer individuals placed on paid leave a formal opportunity to respond to the ARB’s criticisms of their conduct before making final decisions? Will their responses be made public?
  • How many times have you been briefed on the status of each of the four individuals placed on paid administrative leave?
  • Explain why you have been unwilling or unable to reach decisions on these important personnel matters.

Unfortunately, Mr. Issa did not ask the more important questions. What actions did these four individuals take that made them blamable for Benghazi?   What evidence did the ARB have against these individuals and why are those kept classified?  Was any one of them directly responsible for opening up the Special Mission in Benghazi? Was anyone of them directly responsible for whatever agreement the State Department-CIA had on the security and operation of the temporary mission?  Was anyone of them directly responsible for turning down the request for more security? Why were they given assurances that their administrative leave status would be temporary and that they would return to new assignments within the Department if an investigation was ongoing?  These assurances — do these assurances  show the predetermined  nature of whatever investigation? Because if there is an investigation, and no one as yet know how it will turn out, how can anyone make stupid promises like these?

Were these promises to the four individuals routinely made to FSOs in trouble like Peter Van Buren?  Peter — yohoo! Did anyone ever tell you  your admin leave status would be temporary and that you would return to a new assignment within the Department at the conclusion of your investigation? What? They padlocked the door after you?

Oh hey, is it true that folks in the upper echelons of the State Department — those who are looked up as leaders and as models of behavior by the rank and file — no longer even look in the mirror afraid of what they’ll see there? Ay madre de dios!

Below is Mr. Issa’s letter in full.  Click on the lower right hand corner of the Scribd screen to display the letter in full screen.   WARNING: Reading may put you on full jaded and sour mood.