Tillerson’s Hiring/Lateral Transfer Freeze: What Priorities Shape Staffing Freeze Exceptions?

Posted: 1:40 am ET
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So Secretary Tillerson has apparently lifted the hiring freeze for WAEs to work the FOIA shop (FS retirees from any agency and CS retirees from DOS are eligible), but Diplomatic Security could not get one position established for its Mobile Security Deployments Office because there is still a freeze on hiring and lateral transfers for the rest of the Foggy Bottom universe?

Diplomatic Security’s Office of Mobile Security Deployments (MSD) is the agency’s emergency security support, crisis response, and special mission component. MSD was originally established in 1985 under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s (DS) Directorate for Training to provide training and security support to overseas posts. As a result of the 9/11 attacks, the Department in 2002 expanded MSD’s mission to include:

  • Security Support Teams, which deploy to embassies or consulates during periods of immediate threat of terrorist or criminal activity, crisis, natural disaster, or other unusual event.
  • Tactical Support Teams, which provide protection for the Secretary of State and other high-risk VIPs, both domestically and as required when the Secretary is traveling abroad.
  • Integrated Mobile Training Teams, which provide specialized security training at overseas posts for U.S. Government employees and to foreign partners.

According to State/OIG, MSD is authorized 104 Foreign Service, 24 Civil Service, and 26 contractor positions. At the time of the inspection, 25 percent of the Foreign Service positions were unfilled.

DS leadership acknowledged that MSD is critical to the security and safety of the Secretary and the Department’s embassies and consulates. Nonetheless, the office faced, on average, a 13.7 percent shortfall in staffing in the three years prior to 2017. This staffing shortfall resulted in 14 agent positions, or two and a half teams, being unstaffed. The staffing shortfall increased in 2017 to 38 percent; a shortfall of 38 agent positions or staffing for six and a half teams. In addition to reducing the number of teams it deployed, the staffing shortfall also required MSD to prioritize Security Support Team and Tactical Support Team missions over Integrated Mobile Training Team missions. As a result, MSD frequently had to reschedule training missions to address more urgent priorities.

In FY 2016, MSD teams deployed 70 times, often on short notice for periods up to 2 months or more, to locales where U.S. embassies and consulates faced serious security threats. Additionally, from July 2014 through April 2017, MSD dedicated 6 of its 10 teams to continuous missions in South Sudan and Somalia, leaving only 4 teams to address other crises or provide needed training. In December 2016, when every available team was deployed on priority missions, MSD trained senior agents, not normally deployed, to create an additional team in case another crisis arose. DS senior leadership acknowledged the need for additional MSD agents but also recognized DS’ bureau-wide shortage of agents. […] MSD met the standards in 1 FAM 262.5-3(1), which require the office to provide Security Support Teams for emergency support to overseas posts during periods of high threats, crises, or natural disasters. The office also met Department standards in 12 FAH-1 H-024.1-2b, which state that Security Support Teams should provide time-sensitive protective security for ambassadors, post personnel, or facility protection, to generally counter a direct or imminent threat of attack. MSD deployed 25 Security Support Teams in FY 2015, 18 in FY 2016, and 10 through the first 7 months of FY 2017. Among the missions conducted from September 2016 through April 2017, MSD provided protective support during the ordered departure of Embassy Kinshasa personnel due to political protests. During the same period, MSD also provided a protective detail for the Ambassador and a tactical operations center at Embassy Juba in the face of civil unrest. Other Security Support Team missions included support to U.S. embassies in the Gambia, Mauritania, the Republic of the Congo, and Somalia. While at a post, Security Support Teams also provided training to regional security officers, Marine Security Guards, the local guard force and American family members in an effort to strengthen their capability to meet future crises.

The State/OIG report notes that MSD did not have anyone permanently assigned to provide high-level oversight for its administrative operations and procedures per GAO suggestion. So last year, MSD apparently established a temporary position for an employee to exercise high-level, unified oversight of the MSD administrative functions.

OIG found that the two DS Special Agents, each of whom held the position for only a few months, were instrumental in implementing significant improvements in MSD personal property internal controls, including the examples described above. These Special Agents also prepared, drafted or updated 50 standard operating procedures on all areas of MSD operations. Based on these accomplishments, OIG concluded that there is a compelling justification to establish a permanent position to maintain the improvements and to provide long-term stability in the direct oversight of contracts, budget, and property management. Without permanent senior oversight, the office risks reverting to its former practices, including an inability to effectively manage SPE.

SPE stands for Sensitive Protective Equipment which refers to equipment, such as weapons and optical equipment like night-vision goggles, issued to agents in support of their law enforcement, security, and protective missions. State/OIG recommended that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security “should make the Office of Mobile Security Deployments’ temporary administrative chief a permanent position.”

Management Response: In its October 13, 2017, response, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security concurred with the recommendation. The bureau noted that it had updated the internal organizational structure of the office to depict the new position. The bureau further stated that once the Department’s restrictions on hiring and lateral transfers are lifted, it would attempt to establish the position in the General Schedule to ensure permanence and continuity.

Read the full report here.

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Is Congress aware that the people that do ALL the reviewing for @StateDept FOIA requests (are) part timers?

Posted: 3:23 am ET
Updated: April 19 9:47 pm PT
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Below is an excerpt from the Associated Press v. State Department Case 1:13-cv-01363-EGS Document 48-2 Filed 12/11/15, a status hearing with John Hackett who has been with the State Department since 2013. Mr. Hackett was the Deputy Director, Office of Information Programs and Services from April 2013 to March 2014. He served as Acting Director for a year, and in June 2015, he was appointed Director of the Office of Information Programs and Services. The hearing occurred before Judge Richard Leon at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. This is an excerpt from the court transcript:

Q How many people you got working under you, sir?
A We have approximately 60 civil servants who work on the FOIA program.

Q You have some part-time people too, right?
A We have additional part-time people.

Q Forty?
A We have 40 former foreign service officers who do primarily the review.

Q You have 40 part-time employees, former foreign service officers who assists the 60 full time, right?
A The 40 former foreign service officers are the primary reviewers. They’re experts in their field, and they do, they do the bulk of the review. In fact, they do all of the reviews.

Q The sixty, 64 folks that you have on your full-time staff don’t do any reviewing?
A No, your Honor, they’re case analysts and they receive the documents that come in, the requests that come in from the public. They do the validations of the requests. They do the tasking of other bureaus and offices. They open the mail, task things out.

Q They process the paper?
A Process the paper, yes.

Q They don’t have the training, background and skill to make the kinds of judgment calls that reviewers make, if I understood you correctly?
A That’s correct, your Honor.

Q And when you say 40 are part time, what does part time equal 20 hours per week?
A It depends, your Honor. They are in a special category that allows them to work X amount of hours per year and receive their pensions at the same time, their foreign service pension. So there’s a cap on their hours and there’s also a cap on their dollars. So a lot of them work I would say 20 to 24 hours a week, but it depends on what they’re paid. Because many of them cap out before they’ve used all their hours. They cap out on their salary hours.

Q So you don’t have the authority to direct them to work more than X-number of hours a week or do you?
A I don’t, your Honor, because it is a provision, and I’m not sure — it’s in the department’s regulation or whether it’s in an act or statute that allows them to work, work for the State Department, work for the government in addition to receive their foreign service retirement.

Q Is Congress aware that the people that do all the reviewing for State Department FOIA requests part timers? Does congress know this?
A Your Honor, I can’t speak to what Congress does or does not know.

Q Well, has that always been the system?
A It’s been the system since I arrived, your Honor. It’s been a successful system to have.

Q Well, now that’s a matter of prospective, sir. The  State Department has been publicly criticized on many occasions for how slow they are in processing FOIA reviews, many occasions. Indeed, I think Justice and State are the ones that are publicly criticized the most for the slowness of their reviews. Surely you’re aware of that, are you not, it’s your department?
A Your Honor, we have since 2008, had a 300 percent increase in the number of requests coming to the Department.

Q All the more reason why you should have full-time people doing the reviewing. So prior to you getting there it was always part timers too as far as you know?
A As far as I know, your Honor, yes.

Q As far as you know it’s always been part timers?
A Yes, but there’s been part timers, but it’s not just their part timers. You need staff or you need experts in this field, in diplomacy and national security information. And they come to us with —

Q Let’s pause there for a second. You don’t need that to figure out Huma Abedin’s, Special Government Employee papers. That doesn’t affect national security, does it?
A I don’t know, your Honor.

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Retired FSOs who return to work as part-timers are called Reemployed Annuitants (previously categorized as WAEs or When Actually Employed employees), and their work hours are capped at 1040 hours a year. Below via RNET:

The term WAE (When Actually Employed) is used in the Department of State (DoS) to describe a reemployed annuitant who works on an intermittent basis for no more than 1040 hours during each service year and whose appointment is not to exceed one year. Bureaus utilize WAEs to fill staffing gaps and peak workload periods. While the acronym WAE is currently well-known inside DoS, new employees understandably find it confusing. In order to transition out of using the term WAE, the program has been renamed the Reemployed Annuitant (WAE) Program or REA/WAE.
[….]
A FS annuitant reemployed on a temporary basis will continue to receive their full annuity and the full salary so long as the annual earnings and annuity received do not exceed the higher of: (a) the FS annuitant’s salary at retirement (unadjusted for inflation) or (b) the full- time salary of the position in which the FS annuitant is reemployed.

Updated April 19:

A new declaration from Mr. Hackett (via Leopold v. State Department) case indicates that the State Department has hired additional reviewers. It looks like there will be 25 more FOIA reviewers to be brought onboard this spring.

 

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