@StateDept Survey Report Recommends Moving Issuance of Visas, Passports, Travel Docs to DHS

Posted: 3:01 am ET
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The State Department spent at least $1,086,250 for the “listening tour” that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ordered in late April. On Wednesday, the report was made available internally to State and USAID employees. As of this writing, the State Department has not made the report publicly available. A State Department spokesperson told one media outlet that “Unfortunately, the results of the survey will not be available.”  

The 110-page report is copyrighted by Insigniam and marked “confidential and proprietary” (see more about that here: @StateDept Says It’s “Unfortunate” That It Withholds Employee Survey Results From Public 😢 Hu-Hu!).

The report which includes seven recommendations has a chapter on methodology, and a chapter on what employees want to tell Secretary Tillerson. There were 27,837 respondents from State, and 6,142 respondents from USAID. Some 17,600 overseas employees from the two agencies participated.

The largest category of respondents from State is Locally Employed Staff numbering at 6,735  (followed by 6,331 Generalists/FSOs, and 6,009 Civil Service employees). Mid-level rank employees across FS, CS and LE staff occupy the largest count of responders. The largest survey respondents in terms of tenure have served the State Department 6 to 10 years.

The highest number of respondents by regional bureau came from Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) at 3,131. The highest number of respondents by functional bureau came from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) with 2,524 respondents, followed by the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) with 2,142.

The “listening tour” report has multiple parts but we’d like to go straight to the recommendations it provides, which includes crafting a mission; alignment of purpose and mission; serving the frontline first; treasuring the talent; build a shared services model; duration of assignments and overlap transition time; and the removal of the uncertainty of cuts as soon as possible.

Of special note is Recommendation #5 which is “Build a Shared Services Model” which includes 1) security clearances, 2) human resources, 3) IT, 4) planning, budgeting, finance, procurement, and administrative functions, and  5), Move issuance of passports,visas,and other travel documents to Homeland Security.

Folks, ever heard of ICASS? There are already 13 agencies, in addition to State and USAID who are ICASS shared services participating agencies.  State doesn’t have to build a shared services model, it already has one; and that it can expand. Agencies pay their share of post administrative costs based on usage. “Department of State management personnel currently provide most ICASS services, the post ICASS Council can select other U.S. Government agencies or commercial firms to provide services if it can be demonstrated that they have a competitive advantage in improving services or cutting costs.”  As of August 1, 2016 update, participation in services offered through ICASS is voluntary for agencies except for Basic Package, Community Liaison Office Services, Health Services, and Security Services which are mandatory.

The International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS) system is the principal means that the U.S. Government provides and shares the cost of common administrative support needed to ensure effective operations at its more than 200 diplomatic and consular posts abroad.  In the spirit of the Government Performance and Results Act, the ICASS system seeks to provide quality services at the lowest cost, while attempting to ensure that each agency bears the cost of its presence abroad.  ICASS, through which over 300 Government entities receive bills for shared services, is a break-even system; the charge to the customer agencies equals the cost of services.

The ICASS program provides a full range of administrative services.  These include motor pool operations and vehicle maintenance, travel services, reproduction services, mail and messenger services, information systems management, reception and telephone system services, purchasing and contracting, human resources management, cashiering, vouchering, accounting, budget preparation, residential and nonresidential security guard services, and building operations.  In addition to the services delivered at the post level, the ICASS system also provides service at the regional level.  An example of regional service delivery is the regional finance centers.  ICASS also delivers services at the headquarters level.  Examples of headquarters level services are the shared expenses of the overseas medical program and the grant program managed by Office of Overseas Schools (A/OPR/OS).  The cost of regional and headquarters level programs are added to the cost of post administrative support and distributed to customer agencies as part of the headquarters-level bill.

The recommendation talks about “creating, at minimum a DOS/USAID and optimally, a federal shared services model that includes these functions:”

Item 1: “Security clearances: eliminate the need to apply for a new security clearance for each new federal agency someone is hired by.”

That sounds awkward. Anyway, right now every agency has its own security clearance process. For instance, if an EFM (diplomatic spouse) were hired by DEA at post, his/her security clearance would be done by the DEA. We understand that whichever agency is doing the hiring also does the security clearance. The smart folks who explained this to us said that having a clearance from one agency might speed up your ability to get a clearance from another agency, but the clearances are not reciprocal from one agency to another. For example, if a Secret Service agent is hired by Diplomatic Security, his/her security clearance from the Secret Service doesn’t transfer to the State Department.

So if you’re talking about “eliminating” the need to apply for a new clearance once hired into a new federal agency — well, that’s not at all within the control of the State Department or USAID. Every agency has its own rules.  You want to make those security clearance rules reciprocal across agencies, you want employees to be able to carry their security clearance across agencies, neither the State Department nor USAID have authorities to do that.

A law enforcement pal told us that the only way this recommendation would work is if ALL background investigations were done by a national agency and all executive agencies are required to accept the security clearance issued by that national agency.  There is the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB), housed at OPM (oh, dear), responsible for conducting background investigations for over 100 Federal agencies – reportedly approximately 95 percent of the total background investigations government-wide.  As of October 1, 2016, the NBIB was established as the primary service provider of government-wide background investigations for the Federal Government with the mission of “delivering efficient and effective background investigations to ensure the integrity and trustworthiness of the Federal workforce.” On paper, Executive Order 13764 of January 17, 2017 already provides for the reciprocity of background investigations and adjudications conducted by other authorized agencies. But we don’t know how NBIB works in real life.

So —  if you really want to make the process more efficient and effective, you want not just the portability of a security clearance across agencies, you also want the revalidation process for security clearance to move faster. For that to happen, you need people to process and approve the revalidation. You can’t do that if people are rotating out of positions, and/or if you can’t hire even temporary help because of a self-imposed hiring freeze. So …

Item 4: Other planning, budgeting, finance, procurement, and administrative functions: “…one of the initial areas of focus must also be a comprehensive audit of all reports. This will be followed by an aggressive initiative to streamline and consolidate the cacophony reports and the large amount of people-hours invested in writing them.”

Back in 2010, State/OIG determined that the Bureau of Legislative Affairs (State/H) tracked 310 congressionally mandated reports that needed to be submitted in FY 2010. The Bureau of Administration (State/A) on the other hand separately tracked 108 recurring reports required by the Department. If you want to streamline or consolidate those reports, the State Department could start with the A bureau, but would obviously require congressional approval for those 310 reports. The Bureau of Legislative Affairs (State/H) could certainly tackle that, except wait, we don’t have a Senate confirmed Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, or a Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary. My gosh, that bureau is like a ghost town!

Finally item 5 under the report’s “Build Shared Services Model” may prove to be the most controversial:

Item 5: “Move issuance of passports, visas, and other travel documents to Homeland Security: we heard enough comments (combined with our own expertise in organization design and patterns to conclude) that there may be an opportunity to elevate efficiency and reduce cost by this change. Indications are that doing so would elevate security at our borders and remove a source of dissatisfaction and frustration.”

Folks, the entire report contains three references to visas …

#1 –  an acknowledgement of the men and women behind the scenes who helped the contractors obtained visas during the listening tour;

#2 – a comment from one of the respondents who said, “Focus the Department’s mission and rein in the mission creep. Too much goobly-gook has crept in. We should protect American citizens and businesses, vet visas, and encourage democratic rule of law and good governance. Full stop;”

#3 – Under Recommendation 5 “Move issuance of passports,visas,and other travel documents to Homeland Security.

The report does NOT/NOT  include any discussion or justification presented on how moving the issuance of passports, visas and other travel documents may elevate efficiency, and reduce cost, or how it would elevate security at our borders. The contractors heard “enough comments” but those comments do not appear to be in the report.

By the way, what’s the upside of cost reduction if you actually lose $2.45 billion of annual revenue in the process?

We should note that Consular Affairs (CA), the bureau responsible for the issuance of passports and visas has over 12,000 employees at 28 domestic passport facilities, 2 domestic visa centers, 8 headquarters offices, and more than 240 consular sections at embassies and consulates around the world.  In FY2012, the Bureau also generated approximately $3.14 billion in consular fee revenue, of which 78% ($2.45 billion) was retained by the State Department and shared among its regional and functional bureaus.

We will write a separate post about this recommendation because it deserves a longer post. It is also worth noting that the Trump Administration’s nominee to lead Consular Affairs is publicly on record in support of moving the visa function to DHS (see Ex-FSO Who Once Advocated Moving Visas to DHS May be the Next Asst Secretary For Consular Affairs).

 

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@StateDept Says It’s “Unfortunate” That It Withholds Employee Survey Results From Public 😢 Hu-Hu!

Posted: 1:59 am ET
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Via govexec.com:

“Unfortunately, the results of the survey will not be available,” said Nicole Thompson of the department’s Office of Press Relations. That position comes in spite of the fact that a copy of the 110-page survey report from Insigniam, a consulting firm, was leaked to the Wall Street Journal, which published excerpts.

Hey, that’s the $10K/page report that the American taxpayers paid for but cannot read publicly. “Unfortunate” is an understatement. We also don’t know who owns the data collected during this study. Do you?

The contractor has asserted its copyright on the report — provided for under the FAR — in which case, “when claim to copyright is made the Contractor grants the Government, and others acting on its behalf, a license to the work.” Also that “The Government’s license includes the right to distribute copies of the work to the public for government purpose.” So in this case, by not making the report public, the State Department has decided that the American public does not have a right to see a report it paid for.

Folks, this is going to be the document that Mr. Tillerson will cite in reorganizing, no, excuse me, downsizing his own agency, the oldest executive agency in our history, and the public is not allowed to read it?  Holy moly guacamole! Help me! I can’t stop crying 😢 😢 😢 …

If Contractor is Allowed to Assert Copyright in a Work Produced Under a Government Contract, What Rights Does the Government Have?

Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) was established to codify uniform policies for acquisition of supplies and services by executive agencies. The following from the Frequently Asked Questions About Copyright Issues Affecting the U.S. Government  addresses the issue of copyright from an operations perspective:

A contractor’s assertion of copyright in a work produced under a DFARS contract does not provide any restrictions to the Government’s use of the work (see DFARS 227.7103-990 and 227.7203-991). In a FAR contract, if the contractor is permitted to assert copyright, the Government will acquire a license to the copyrighted work. The extent of the license may depend on the type of work created (see FAR 52.227-1492).

Under the FAR, when a contractor asserts copyright in a work first produced in the performance of a contract with a civilian agency or NASA, the contractor must place a copyright notice acknowledging the government sponsorship (including contract number) on the work when it is delivered to the Government, as well as when it is published or deposited for registration with the U.S. Copyright Office (see FAQ Section 4.8). If no copyright notice is placed on the work, the Government obtains unlimited rights in the work. Unlimited rights allow the Government to provide the work to another contractor and distribute the work to the public, including posting the work to a public web site. Otherwise, when claim to copyright is made the Contractor grants the Government, and others acting on its behalf, a license to the work.

The Government’s license is a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide license to use, modify, reproduce, release, perform, display or disclose the work by or on behalf of the Government. The Government may use the work within the Government without restriction, and may release or disclose the work outside the Government and authorize persons to whom release or disclosure has been made to use, modify, reproduce, release, perform, display, or disclose the work on behalf of the government. The Government’s license includes the right to distribute copies of the work to the public for government purpose. While the contractor may assign its copyright in “scientific and technical articles based on or containing data first produced in the performance of a contract” to a publisher, the Government’s license rights attach to the articles upon creation and later assignment by the contractor to a publisher are subject to these rights. Under some FAR data rights clauses, if the work is a computer program, the right to release or disclose the computer program to the public is not included in the Government’s license. If there is any question as to the scope of the Government’s license, the Contracting Officer or your General Counsel should be consulted.

An example of a copyright statement, which includes a government license, for use with works created under contracts with civilian agencies and NASA is:

COPYRIGHT STATUS: This work, authored by ______________ employees, was funded in whole or in part by _________________ under U.S. Government contract _______________, and is, therefore, subject to the following license: The Government is granted for itself and others acting on its behalf a paid-up, nonexclusive, irrevocable worldwide license in this work to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute copies to the public, and perform publicly and display publicly, by or on behalf of the Government. All other rights are reserved by the copyright owner.

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Results of @StateDept $1M Organizational Study Reportedly Available via Intranet Today – Yay!

Posted: 3:28 am ET
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The results of the Insigniam survey that was commissioned by the State Department under Secretary Tillerson will reportedly be made available on the Intranet on Wednesday, July 5.  See WSJ’s Felicia Schwartz report below. We’re not sure if the State Department is releasing the full report or a summary report to employees on Wednesday, but be in a lookout for a 110-page report which supposedly includes feedback from 35,386 employees from State and USAID and 300 employee in-person or telephonic interviews.

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With Reported Proposal to Cut 2,300 @StateDept Jobs, Tillerson Set to Survey Employees

Posted: 2:31 am ET
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Via AP:

One U.S. diplomat said people were “enraged” by a report that indicated Tillerson is unhappy with how much the U.S. spends on housing and schooling for the families of employees overseas, even though those diplomats often serve in tough conditions. The diplomat added that staffers were told they could not, for now, fill empty jobs with the qualified spouses of diplomats — a long-running State initiative — because Tillerson aides “think it’s a ‘jobs program.’” “They’ve got it exactly backwards,” the diplomat said. “These are not jobs we’re creating to give spouses and partners work. They are jobs we desperately need filled, and we’re saving the U.S. government money and improving morale by hiring spouses.”

So the State Department ignored our question on the “corporate welfare” rumor but Tilleron’s aides apparently think family member employment is a “jobs program.” (Oy! That Rumor About Foreign Service Family Member Employment as “Corporate Welfare”).

On Wednesday, Secretary Tillerson is scheduled to address State Department employees at 10:30am ET. The event is available to watch live at . We understand that the “address” (not/not billed as a townhall) will be brief, and that apparently there will be no questions.

Last Monday, Secretary Tillerson also sent a mass email to all State Department employees asking for their “participation” to identify how they “are going about completing the Department of State’s mission.”

The email announced an online survey that will also go live from May 3 until 9 am (EDT) on Monday, May 15, 2017.

Employees are asked to participate with Tillerson’s email promising “Individual survey answers and comments will be treated as confidential.”  The survey will include the workforce “including employed family members, locally-engaged staff, and certain contractors.”

This would effectively exclude 70% of family members overseas who are currently employed outside U.S. missions and family members who are unemployed.

The final report will reportedly be available in May.

In addition to the survey, Secretary Tillerson’s email also told employees that some “300 individuals from both the Department and USAID in the United States and abroad will be interviewed.”  These individuals will reportedly be randomly selected. “The interview will take approximately one hour. Your candid assessments are invaluable. All interviews will be conducted privately and all responses will be treated as confidential,” Mr. Tillerson writes.

The chief diplomat who is widely reported as set to chop 2,300 positions from State and USAID expects “candid assessments?” And then he writes:

“We will be using the results of the survey and interviews as input to efficiency improvements as part of our larger efforts called for under E.O. 13781. I have no pre-conceived notions about how the Department or USAID should be organized for the future. My commitment on that first day was to deploy the talent and resources of the State Department in the most efficient way possible. In order to do that, we need your help in identifying processes that we all need improved.”

This is hilarious, excuse me.

Isn’t this like telling somebody — we’re gonna chop your arm, but first go ahead and tell us how to make an improved version of you?

The mass email ends with, “My regard for the men and women of the Department of State and USAID has only grown, as I experience every day the dedication and professionalism of our workforce. I hope that we can count on your help as we pursue our shared mission.”

Note that the State Department has about 75,000 employees worldwide, USAID has some 3,800.  So the State Department is interviewing 0.3 percent of the combined workforce, or if we don’t count the local staff, it would be about 1 percent of the direct-hire American workforce.

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