Tillerson Gives Another Pep Talk at Another Embassy – Tells Joke, But Takes No Questions Again?

Posted: 4:20 am ET
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In addition to his Welcome Remarks to Employees (02/02/17)  and his Remarks to U.S. Department of State Employee last May (05/03/17), Tillerson has made exactly four remarks to State Department staffers during his trips overseas.  These pep talks were made at the U.S. Embassies in Kuala Lumpur, Wellington, Ankara and now London.  
Excerpt from his remarks to the staff and family members at US Embassy London, September 14, 2017:

So safety and security, accountability, and respect for one another. I really want you to think about that every day and try to practice that. If you do those things, you’ll have a performing organization. That’s what I know. I know that to be true.

And as you know, we’re going through a redesign at the State Department. Part of this was in response to an executive order from the President, but it was also something that I wanted to do from day one. The most important thing I want to do during the time I have – I hope we get peace in North Korea; I hope we can settle the conflicts in Syria; I hope we can settle the conflict in Libya; I hope we can develop a better relationship with Russia. But those won’t be the most important things that I’ll do. The most important thing I can do is to enable this organization to be more effective, more efficient, and for all of you to take greater satisfaction in what you do day in and day out. Because if I accomplish that, that will go on forever and you will create the State Department of the future.

That’s why we started this with a listening tour. We got 35,000 of you responded. If you responded, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And we interviewed over 300 people face to face, and since we started the redesign, which is led by you and your colleagues, we’ve had over 200 people working in redesign teams while they’ve been doing their day jobs at the same time. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with them from time to time and see the work as it’s progressing, and I just can’t tell you how excited I am. You know – you know what needs to be fixed. I don’t, but you do. You know where you’re having problems, where you’re struggling, where things get in the way of you being effective. That’s what we want to get at. And that’s why we call it a process redesign. A reorganization is taking boxes on a chart and cramming them together and moving them around, but nothing really changes. We want to get down to how do you get your work done and how can we help you get your work done more efficiently, more effectively.

So I tell people I’m in the blocking and tackling business. You tell me what you need to run downfield, and let me go do some blocking for you to do it. If we need Congress to change a – make a statutory change, we’ll go after it. If they need to make a change in things that require appropriations, we’ll go after it. And I’m already in conversations with them about that. So with your involvement in this through the portal, a lot of ideas – we’re getting great ideas through the portal. Please, keep those coming. And those things that we can fix on our own right away, I have entire teams to get after it and let’s start fixing some of these things.
[…]
So again, thank all of you for what you do for us. Thank you, Ambassador, for being here. Now, we have an Ambassador Johnson and we have a Foreign Secretary Johnson. What I’ve concluded is, on any given day, a Johnson is going to be to blame. (Laughter.) We’ll let them figure out who. (Laughter.)

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Ambassador Robert W. Johnson IV Assumes Post at U.S. Embassy London

Posted: 1:02 am  ET
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Ambassador Johnson’s recent predecessors include Matthew W. Barzun (2013 – 2017); Louis B. Susman  (2009-2013); Robert Holmes Tuttle  (2005-2009) and William Farish (2001-2004). Below is a look back at some former incumbents of the position of Ambassador to the Court of St James’s prepared at the start of Ambassador Barzun’s tenure in 2013:

Related posts:

 

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U.S. Embassy London: 100 #StatuesofLiberty Protest Trump’s First #100Days

Posted: 2:40 am ET
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@StateDept’s Canned Article on Mar-a-Lago Roils Twitter, Hold On to Your Hats!

Posted: 6:55 pm ET
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The State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs runs ShareAmerica, the agency’s platform “for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.”  It provides content for U.S. embassies and consulates in “more than 140 countries to engage with people around the globe on U.S. foreign policy and American society.”

One of its recent canned articles is Mar-a-Lago: The winter White House written by Leigh Hartman and posted on the Share America website on April 4, 2017. The writer has also penned other pieces like Trump holds first meeting with China’s XiWatch Trump’s grandchildren sing for China’s Xi First lady honors courageous women from around the worldArab-American women: Making their mark and sharing their storiesNew coin honors Frederick Douglass and about the New York restaurant named best in the world.

U.S. embassies and consulates overseas do not hire writers for their websites, and do not have the people nor the money to generate their own content.  Share America’s writers generate the canned content that can be shared through the embassies/consulates social media platforms. That’s what happened when the US Embassy in London used the  Mar-a-Lago: The winter White House article on its website.  As can be expected, Embassy London is not the only website that carries the article on its website.

Moira Whelan, the former Deputy Secretary of State for Public Affairs took to Twitter to explain that “Share America is meant to explain America to the world. A group of staff writers explain Americana to the world.” She writes that “In a large office the staff are trusted to make decisions and I can see how “let’s tell the backstory of Mar-a-lago” seemed like a good idea.” She added that “It was an error in judgement, but the White House has done much more to create this as “normal” than one writer at .” She urged that attention is important “but more important is not to assign malicious intent to what may just be an error.”

One reporter said on Twitter that “the State Dept. spokesman says he doesn’t know why the State Dept. posted this about Trump’s for-profit business.”  Yes, because that spokesman works at the Bureau of Public Affairs (PA), while the content creators for Share America work for the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), the foreign public facing arm of the State Department.  The Share America articles are intended for a foreign audience.

I called the piece a “snafu” but corrected myself, maybe poor choice. Given the controversies surrounding Mar-a-Lago, this is probably not the best pick for shared content particularly since the article is also available for domestic consumption. But the writer/s probably also did not think through the political angle and the domestic audience.  Since IIP’s role is to explain America to the world, perhaps  can write a follow-up post explaining this controversy in our current environment.

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Shortly after this post went up, we saw this:

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Trump EO Results in Provisional Revocations of Valid Visas, Chaos For Dual Nationals

Posted: 1:38 am ET
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On January 27, President Trump signed an executive order suspending the entry of refugees to the United States for FY2017 for 120 days. The E.O also proclaimed the entry of certain aliens as “detrimental to the interests of the United States” and declared the suspension of their entry into the United States for 90 days.  The aliens referred to are from countries cited under Section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C.1187(a)(12) according to the executive order.  These are the same countries cited under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen.

Urgent Notice

The State Department issued an urgent notice on January 27:

Per the Executive Order on Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals signed on January 27, 2017, visa issuance to nationals of the countries of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen has been suspended effective immediately until further notification. If you are a citizen of one of these countries, please do not schedule a visa appointment or pay any visa fees at this time. If you already have an appointment scheduled, please DO NOT ATTEND. You will not be permitted entry to the Embassy/Consulate. We will announce any other changes affecting travelers to the United States as soon as that information is available.

Provisional Revocations

It appears that not only has the U.S. Government suspended the entry and processing of visas for this seven Muslim-majority countries, it also made the State Department “provisionally revoked” (with exceptions) the valid visas issued to citizens from these seven countries. If the travel ban is lifted after 90 days, the rules allow for the reinstatement of visas, presumably with whatever “extreme vetting” the government will have in place by then.

Provisional revocation via the Federal Register:

In cases where the person subject to a provisional revocation is found to be eligible for the visa, the visa will be reinstated with no need for reapplication. However, with the exception of provisional revocations, an applicant whose visa has been revoked must apply for another visa, at which time his or her eligibility for the visa will be adjudicated.

Questions for the State Department

We asked the State Department how the EO affects dual-nationals, green card holders and travelers from these seven countries.  We also asked previously if travelers issued visas on the day the EO was issued now expect that those visas no longer have validity. We wanted to know if consular posts are canceling all visa appointments/refunding all visa application fees from applicants in the affected countries. We requested an estimate of how many applicants were in the pipeline when the ban took effect.

We get to ask our questions but we don’t always get the response we need. For travelers who are nationals/dual-nationals of the seven countries, a State Department official speaking on background offered the following:

Beginning January 27, 2017, travelers who have nationality or dual nationality of one of these countries [Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen] will not be permitted for 90 days to enter the United States or be issued an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa.

Those nationals or dual nationals holding valid immigrant or nonimmigrant visas will not be permitted to enter the United States during this period. Visa interviews will generally not be scheduled for nationals of these countries during this period.

So the suspension affects not only the entry to the U.S. but also the issuance of immigrant (green card) and nonimmigrant (temporary) visas. An SBU cable reportedly went out to all posts last Saturday explaining the executive order.  The State Department official says, “As we would for any operational change, we communicated instructions to our consulates in affected countries and around the world.”

The State Department official cites an exception to the ban on a “case-by-case” basis and when “in the national interest.”

The Department of Homeland Security and Department of State may, on a case-by-case basis, and when in the national interest, issue visas or allow entry to nationals of countries for which visas and entry are otherwise blocked under this Executive Order.

Asked specifically about dual-nationals, the State Department official only notes about dual-national Americans:

This Executive Order should not affect dual-nationality Americans at all. U.S. citizens (although they might also have another nationality) are required to use their U.S. passport when entering and departing the United States. They do not receive visas or enter the U.S. as a foreign national, so this Executive Order does not apply to them.

The EO clearly does not apply to American citizens but it appears to be a different story in our airport terminals:

We also asked the State Department about third country dual nationals with the seven countries, for instance Canadian-Iranians or British-Iraqi citizens.  The State Department directed us to check with Homeland Security. As of this writing, we have not heard a response. Meanwhile, the chaos continue.

Israeli Dual Nationals With Seven Restricted Countries

The US Embassy in Tel Aviv posted the following message which contradicts the information we received from the State Department on dual nationals:

Travelers with an existing valid visa in their Israeli passport may travel to the United States, even if they are also a national of or born in one of the seven restricted countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen). Embassy Tel Aviv will continue to process visa applications and issue visas to eligible visa applicants who apply with an Israeli passport, even if born in, or a dual national of, one of the seven restricted countries. Final authorization to enter the United States is always determined at the port of entry.

 

UK Dual Nationals With Seven Restricted Countries

The US Embassy in London said that “Dual nationals of the United Kingdom and one of these countries are exempt from the Executive Order when travelling on a valid United Kingdom passport and U.S. visa.” But the UKFCO has additional guidelines that seems to indicate point of origin as a factor, too, which adds to more confusion:

  • the Presidential executive order only applies to individuals travelling from one of the 7 named countries
  • if you are travelling to the US from anywhere other than one of those countries (for instance, the UK) the executive order does not apply to you and you will experience no extra checks regardless of your nationality or your place of birth
  • if you are a UK national who happens to be travelling from one of those countries to the US, then the order does not apply to you – even if you were born in one of those countries
  • if you are a dual citizen of one of those countries travelling to the US from OUTSIDE those countries then the order does not apply to you
  • The only dual nationals who might have extra checks are those coming from one of the 7 countries themselves – for example a UK-Libya dual national coming from Libya to the US.

Canadian Dual Nationals With Seven Restricted Countries

Media reports citing DHS and the State Department says that dual nationals with the seven countries will be refused entry. This is the same thing we were told.   Meanwhile, the Canadian Ambassador to the US said exactly the opposite. Canadian PM Justin Trudeau on Twitter also release a statement citing confirmation from NSA Mike Flynn that Canadian citizens including dual citizens will not be affected by the ban.

Welcome to big time confusion and chaos!

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That Time When Donald Trump Embraced Anna Wintour’s Rumored Ambassadorship to London or Paris

Posted: 1:13 am ET
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Via Politico:

America’s diplomats are shuddering at the notion that Donald Trump, if elected president, will send unqualified cronies around the world as ambassadors, exporting his bombastic style to sensitive jobs that represent the face of the United States.

As the presidential election draws closer, many career diplomats are uncertain about their future should the Republican presidential nominee and his unorthodox foreign policy positions triumph. And while plenty of them are wary of how Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton — a former secretary of state who will owe a lot of favors — will shape her administration, Trump is by far the bigger unknown.

“He probably has no idea what the foreign service is,” lamented one person with deep knowledge of the U.S. diplomatic corps. “At least with her we know who half the people who will get these jobs will be. With him we have no idea.”
[…]
The rise of Trump this year is adding an edge to what otherwise would be routine efforts to get the candidates to pay lip service to the importance of a qualified diplomatic corps.

Read more:

Donald Trump may not know what the Foreign Service is but back in 2012, he was happy to endorsed Vogue Magazine’s Anna Wintour rumored ambassadorship to either the U.K. or France.  She was rumored to be in the running but was never nominated.  The Daily Beast reported in 2013 that Wintour had actually favored the British appointment over France.

The Times writes that after Wintour was notified that her preferred post would likely go to Obama’s top fundraiser Matthew Barzun in November, she was uninterested in pushing for one of the remaining positions. […] At the time, Wintour’s close friend, designer Oscar de la Renta, found the prospect ridiculous, telling the paper, “When you are editor in chief of an extremely successful magazine, you don’t need an ambassadorship for four years. Ambassadors were great in the 18th century. Today, it’s going to the opening of a cafeteria.”

Ouch!

We should note that President Obama appointed to-date the highest number of career diplomats as ambassadors at 70.8%, and the lowest number of non-career, political appointees at 29.2%.  The challenge is to persuade the next president to break that record and go lower when it comes to political appointees.  See Obama’s Career Ambassadorship Appointments: Highest on Record at 70.8% #ThanksObama.

Whether or not The Donald has heard of the Foreign Service is a guessing game, but he has certainly heard of the State Department, and he has nothing good to say about it.

As to who might received appointments in a potential Trump Administration, we can only guess with trepidation given the quality of surrogates on teevee who appear to reside in an alternate universe where up is down, where inside is out and where smarts is measured by looks, and the ability to suspend disbelief.

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15th Anniversary: September 11 Remembrances Around the Foreign Service

Posted: 12:56 am ET
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US Embassy Wellington, New Zealand

US Embassy San Jose, Costa Rica

US Embassy Dublin, Ireland

US Consulate Vancouver, Canada

US Embassy Prague, Czech Republic

US Embassy Warsaw, Poland

US Embassy London, UK

US Embassy Budapest, Hungary

US Embassy Montevideo, Uruguay

US Consulate Munich, Germany

US Consulate Halifax, Canada

U.S. Embassy Djibouti, Djibouti

 

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Former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan Refused Clearance to Enter the U.S. Via Visa Waiver Program

Posted: 2:24 am ET
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We’ve featured a quote from him here in 2009 (Quote: I’m actually a bad man who happens to have a limit…).  Craig Murray was the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and Rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010.  If you don’t remember him, The Guardian’s 2004 piece, The envoy who said too much, would refresh your memory. Quick excerpt with some of his quotable lines:

“There is no point in having cocktail-party relationships with a fascist regime.” He says he advocates a new style of ambassadorship, one that is more down to earth and less stuffy. “You don’t have to be a pompous old fart to be an ambassador.”
[…]
“I joined the Foreign Office, not a monastery,” Murray explains. “I have no intention of living like a monk – not that I have anything against monks. It has been put to me that this is perhaps not what ambassadors do…”
[…]
At the Foreign Office there are some who feel Murray should have drawn a line under his battle with London, quietly returning to work, stiff upper lip intact. One FCO official suggested in his correspondence with Murray, that the ambassador should have just called the abuses “horrid”, sat down, and then toed the line. Murray replied: “As you may know I have a slight speech impediment and cannot call anything ‘howwid’.”

On September 5, the former ambassador writes in his blog that he has been refused entry clearance to the U.S. under the visa waiver program:

I have been refused entry clearance to the USA to chair the presentation of the Sam Adams Award to CIA torture whistleblower John Kiriakou and to speak at the World Beyond War conference in Washington DC. Like millions of British passport holders I have frequently visited the USA before and never been refused entry clearance under the visa waiver programme.
[…]
It is worth noting that despite the highly critical things I have published about Putin, about civil liberties in Russia and the annexation of the Crimea, I have never been refused entry to Russia. The only two countries that have ever refused me entry clearance are Uzbekistan and the USA. What does that tell you?
[…]
I have no criminal record, no connection to drugs or terrorism, have a return ticket, hotel booking and sufficient funds. I have a passport from a visa waiver country and have visited the USA frquently before during 38 years and never overstayed.

Below from US Embassy London’s Visa Waiver page:

Citizens of the United Kingdom, Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein,Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Taiwan (passport must have been issued on or after December 29, 2008 and contain a National ID number) holding a valid, full validity e-passport with an electronic chip who are traveling 

  • for business, pleasure or transit for less than 90 days. Visa-free travel does not include those who plan to study, work or remain in the United States for more than 90 days;
  • are not ineligible to receive a visa under U.S. visa law. Travelers who have been arrested, even if the arrest did not result in a criminal conviction, those with criminal records, (the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act does not apply to U.S. visa law), certain serious communicable illnesses, those who have been refused admission into, or have been deported from, the United States, or have previously overstayed on the VWP are not eligible to travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Program.

Plus, if entering the United States by air or sea are:

    • holding a return or onward ticket. If traveling on an electronic ticket, a copy of the itinerary must be carried for presentation to U.S. immigration at the port of entry. Note: Travelers with onward tickets terminating in Mexico, Canada, Bermuda or the Caribbean Islands must be legal permanent residents of these areas;
    • entering the United States aboard an air or sea carrier that has agreed to participate in the program. This includes aircraft of a U.S. corporation that has entered into an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security to carry passengers under the Visa Waiver Program. Note: Other private or official aircraft or vessels do not meet this requirement; and
    • have received travel authorization under ESTA;

 

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FSGB 2015 Annual Report: Grievance Processing Reduction — From 41 Weeks to 34 Weeks

Posted: 12:08 am ET
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The Foreign Service Grievance Board has released its 2015 annual report. Excerpts below:

The FSGB, as the primary appeals tribunal for Foreign Service Officers, is in many cases the tribunal of last resort for a wide variety of disputes that arise in the context of employment in the Foreign Service. Although the Board’s decisions may be appealed to the Federal District Courts, such appeals are rare. Therefore, the Board holds sway over decisions that may not only adversely affect Foreign Service careers but that may be fatal to such careers.In its 2015 report, the FSGB says that it has “achieved significant progress in reducing the timelines from the inception of the appeal (or the filing of the grievance with the Board) to the issuance of the final decision. Taking into consideration certain anomalies (cases settled, withdrawn, etc.), the grievance processing time was reduced from an average of 41 weeks in 2014 to 34 weeks in 2015.”
[…]
The Board is constantly mindful that external trends and societal changes that affect the Foreign Service have a bearing on dispute resolution. In that regard, we have encouraged internal discussion and on occasion invited outside experts to make presentations on topics that we consider relevant to the Board’s core functions. For example, this past year the Board held a panel discussion on the impact of social media on diplomacy, including such issues as expectations of privacy and security of communications in a much more active cyber environment. We also invited four distinguished individuals to engage the Board in a wide-ranging discussion on disability and its impact on the Foreign Service. The discussion ranged from a report on what the Department of State is doing to provide accommodations for various employees who are disabled to the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD. These issues, along with a myriad of other conditions caused by service in stressful, dangerous and unhealthy posts abroad, have significant impact on behavior and performance and are often addressed by evolving laws and regulations; they are therefore relevant to the overall mission of the Board. My expectation is that the Board will continue to encourage discussion of issues that influence Foreign Service careers, and that will enlarge the Board’s understanding of the growing complexities in the practice of diplomacy and the legal framework that surrounds it.

Some of the notable 2015 FSGB cases:

  • One complex case arose from the circumstances following the September 11, 2012, attack on an American diplomatic post in Benghazi. The reviewing officer of a senior DS Agent was placed on administrative leave during the last four months of the rating period. No communication was allowed between the rated employee and reviewer during that time. Additionally, the rated employee was subsequently responsible for implementing many changes in procedures that had been in place under the reviewer who was placed on leave. The employee assumed that the person acting in the original reviewer’s stead would provide the reviewing statement for his EER. However, the Department determined that his former reviewer would write the reviewing statement, since that officer had not been formally reassigned and was familiar with grievant’s performance during most of the rating period. Grievant claimed that this decision, along with the Department’s decision to assign no reviewer for his subsequent Interim EER, contrary to grievant’s expectations, disadvantaged him in the highly competitive promotion process at the senior levels. The Board found that although the Department had contravened the regulations regarding reviewing officers, grievant, who had been recommended for performance pay, had not demonstrated actionable harm, and the grievance was denied. FSGB Case No. 2015-022. (This case does not appear to be available at fsgb.gov).
  • A second grievance illustrated an issue involving informal counseling that occurs with some frequency in cases that end up at the Board. Grievant, an untenured officer, challenged several EERs and a low ranking on a number of grounds, among them that he had not previously been counseled on deficiencies identified in his EERs. After a thorough review of the record, including contradictory statements by the employee and raters, the Board found that, with one exception, grievant had been counseled, albeit informally, but not in writing on the official counseling form as provided by Department regulations. In accordance with Board precedent, the Board found that such informal counseling was acceptable, although not the best practice. FSGB Case No. 2013-046. (PDF)
  • The appeal with the largest sum at stake was filed by the daughter of a deceased Foreign Service Officer. The Department sought to collect over $300,000 in annuity payments that it had continued to deposit to the account of the deceased’s wife (the grievant’s mother) for over a decade after the mother’s death. The grievant alleged that her mother had told her that the payments would be continued, and that she should use them for the benefit of her minor nephew, whose father had also died. When the Department requested repayment, grievant asked for a waiver. The Department denied the application for waiver on the basis that it (the agency) was prohibited by regulation from waiving repayment of overpayments made to an estate. The Board affirmed the Department’s findings. The grievant has appealed the decision to district court. (See Judicial Actions Involving Board Rulings, below.) FSGB Case No. 2014-018. (PDF)
  • In a second, unusual, case, the grievant was a Department employee who had filed the first Foreign Service grievance in 1972. At that time, he was due to be separated as a result of expiration of time in class, and would have received no retirement benefits. The grievant protested that the separation was really due to policy differences with his superiors. During the proceedings, grievant was separated and hired into a Civil Service position. He ultimately won the grievance, but was never reinstated in accordance with the remedies granted. Grievant requested that the Board negotiate a revised annuity based on the original grievance decision. The Board found that the passage of over four decades since the original grievance made the new grievance untimely, and it dismissed the case. FSGB Case No. 2014-042. (Also see FSGB Recognizes Grievant’s “Enduring Dissatisfaction” With @StateDept’s 40 Year Old Grievance Case — Where’s the Medal?)
  • A third case involved both a two-and-a-half-year delay in proposing discipline and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an issue that has arisen with increasing frequency in grievances. The grievant was a DS Agent who allegedly suffered from PTSD following an earlier military deployment to Iraq. The Department charged that grievant failed to inform it about the PTSD during the hiring process, and that he was taking prescription medication without notifying DS as required by the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM). The Board sustained both charges but did not sustain two of the specifications under one of the charges, and remanded to the Department to reconsider the penalty. The delay was not found to have harmed or prejudiced the grievant in this case. FSGB Case No. 2014-020 (PDF).
  • One case involving the appeal of an assignment was closed this year. Grievant had been an FS-02 officer for several years when he was voluntarily separated and transferred to an international organization. He remained at the international organization for seven years, where he held a senior position in his final years. Grievant contested his assignment to an FS-02 position when he returned to State. However, he had also filed a whistleblower reprisal complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) involving the same issues. Grievant withdrew his grievance appeal in order to pursue the OSC complaint. FSGB Case No. 2014-025. (Also see  How many people should be put through a wringer before, oh you know …. and  Secondments to international organizations and promotions? Here comes the boo!).

Some unresolved cases at the end of 2015:

  • Grievant, an untenured DS Agent who spoke fluent Chinese, applied for an upgraded security clearance pursuant to a pending assignment to China. In mid-2013 he was informed that his Top Secret clearance was being suspended based on issues surrounding his personal conduct and his foreign preference and influence. The Department also suspended his law enforcement duties and LEAP, assigning the Agent to unclassified duties. Although the Agent was recommended for tenure the same year, tenure was withheld pending resolution of the security issues, and he was low ranked. Grievant challenges these actions on procedural grounds. FSGB Case No. 2015-034.
  • USAID sought to suspend a Management Officer assigned to a conflict zone for negligent contracting actions that it alleged led to the costly collapse of a roof on a new USAID building. The collapse took place in 2009; discipline was proposed in early 2013. As of mid-2015, the agency had not yet issued a final decision on the discipline; however, it was withholding the grievant’s promotion, recommended in 2013, pending that decision. The grievant challenged the agency’s action as untimely and also claimed as a defense that his alleged negligence was due to his PTSD. The case appeared to be near an agreed resolution last year when a second investigation of the grievant halted negotiations between the parties. FSGB Case No. 2015-020.
  • An employee posted to South America with USAID stopped on his way home by a local bar/grocery store, where, he alleges, his drink was drugged by a young woman who joined him. He claims that he awoke the next morning in a strange place, feeling ill and disoriented, and found that $5,000 had been charged to his debit card. The grievant and his wife state that he continued to hallucinate and be paranoid for two days, supporting their conclusion that he had been drugged. He reported the incident to the RSO and was later recommended for separation for cause based on two charges: 1) Conduct Unbecoming, for having had commercial sex in violation of Department policy; and 2) Dishonesty, for having reported his credit cards stolen, when he still had them in his possession. FSGB Case No. 2015-048.  (This case does not appear to be available at fsgb.gov but a similar case is

    FSGB No. 2012-019 (PDF) which also involves a drugged IMO employee).

IMPLEMENTATION DISPUTES

During the past year the Board resolved two implementation disputes filed by AFSA.

  • The first involved the meaning of language in the 2013 Precepts governing the award of Meritorious Service Increases (MSIs). AFSA and the Department had for many years negotiated the Procedural Precepts concerning MSIs. The Precepts had historically called for awarding MSIs to all employees recommended by the Selection Boards, up to a set percentage of employees in each competitive class. Due to the sequester of funds government-wide in 2013, the negotiated language permitted withholding payment of the MSIs. When the sequester was lifted, the Department nevertheless continued to withhold payment of the awards. AFSA argued that refusal to pay at that point violated the terms of the Precepts to which they had agreed. The Board found in AFSA’s favor, based on the parties’ past practice. The Department has appealed this decision to the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board, which has not yet ruled. FSGB Case No. 2014-028. (PDF)
  • In the second implementation dispute, AFSA alleged that the Department had failed to hold negotiations and/or reach agreement with it on an Embassy London change in practice relating to the deductions Embassy London employees could make from the salaries of their own domestic employees when those employees were given room and board in embassy-provided housing. AFSA contended that the embassy’s unilateral change violated the FAM and the parties’ 1987 Framework Agreement. The Board found that the appeal was filed late and dismissed it for lack of timeliness. FSGB Case No. 2015-005. (PDF).

Read the full report below or read it online via fsgb.gov:

 

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Throwback Thursday: An Election, an FOIA, and @StateDept in the Eye of the Storm

Posted: 1:48 pm EDT
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In November 1992, Sherman Funk, the Inspector General at that time was joined at the State Department podium by Lawrence Eagleburger who was then Acting Secretary of State for a special briefing on the investigation into the passport files of then Democratic presidential nominee Gov. Bill Clinton, his mother, and independent presidential candidate Ross Perot.

The report blamed lower level State Department employees for beginning the search, with the assistant secretary for consular affairs as the highest bureaucratic casualty. The OIG report notes that “The genesis of the search may have been ordinary FOIA requests; the manner in which it was carried out was anything but ordinary. Although aspects of the search made headlines for a month and a half, the entire search lasted but two days.”

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Click on image to watch the 1992 video via c-span.

Mr. Funk did an oral history interview for ADST (PDF) where he talked about his investigation of this incident. Quick excerpt below:

[I]n view of the enormous political potential of this, I called Eagleburger and said, I think this should be turned over to the FBI. Not that we couldn’t do it, but because of the unbelievable sensitivity in an election year when Bush was starting to run further and further behind, that this could look like a dirty trick like what was pulled back in the ‘72 campaign with Mr. Nixon. I also sent later that day a memo for record. I said this could be the October surprise to end all October surprises. We talked about it on the phone, as we did first thing in the morning, I pointed out that for the Republicans this could be a no-lose situation. If a letter like that could be found, Clinton was dead. There was no way he could become President if he at one time said he renounces his American citizenship, just impossible. On the other hand, if no letter could be found, and a charge could be made that the files had been tampered with, and that charge could have validity, that would make it appear that he had removed the letter surreptitiously from the files with the power of the presidency behind him. So therefore, whether or not the letter was written, if the story got out that we were looking at a tampering investigation, it would be a very dicey situation, particularly inasmuch as Jim Baker, the former Secretary of State, was now running the campaign for Bush. And I said I would not want to be in that position because obviously I had worked closely with Baker while he had been Secretary. So Eagleburger, personally I don’t think he was too happy, but he didn’t argue, he said Sherman you call it the way you want to. So I called the Attorney General, Bill Barr, whom I knew rather well, I had worked with him on a number of things before, and in fact helped him get the deputy attorney generalship. It’s a long story, but I had some working relationship with him. And I told him something that I had only read about in books before. He said is it important? I said, “Yes, Bill, this is a matter of national moment.”
[…]
[T]he Department was really coming to pieces. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. People would stop me in the halls with tears in their eyes, and say, “You’ve got to do something about this. We’re being taken over by politicians.” Because every day there were different leaks in the newspaper. Newspaper reporters are very aggressive, particularly during a campaign. So they go to some GS-4 clerk in the national archives and say, “If you don’t tell me what’s going to happen, we’ll put you all over the paper and your career will be dead.” Somebody actually told me this, and they’d be crying when they talked to the reporter. And some of the reporters, who were absolute shits on this thing, unbelievable bastards in the way they operated. There were some noble people. There were some excellent reports, particularly in the Wall Street Journal and to some extent the New York Times, and by and large, the Post wasn’t too bad. But the Washington Times, the Daily News, the New York Post. It wasn’t a matter of politics, it was a matter of just scandals and little journalism. And every night there was something on the evening news about this. And people honestly in the State Department began to think that the Department had been totally corrupted and had been taken over. I’ve never seen a man as devastated in my life as Eagleburger, who was a lame duck until the election was over, who wanted to end his career on a high note, had been a brilliant officer, I think. I happen to think immensely of the man. And here he was leaving on a note that was so low that he was totally despondent.

State/OIG was kind enough to dig up the 1992 report for us which should be required reading:

 

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