Monday, June 4, 2012

A Teachable Moment

The State Department is taking a well-deserved beating in the court of public opinion for its free-wheeling incompetence in handling a security clearance/discipline case with free-speech implications. Another case, currently under adjudication, promises similar, or greater, fireworks. 

We predict an imminent legal battle to force State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security to do what every other agency performing security clearance adjudications already does: monitor the quality of security clearance cases and ensure that they comply with laws and regulations. 

Simply put, State is the worst abuser of the security-clearance process in the US Government. It has taken a  process that should be used solely for assessing whether or not a person has sufficient integrity and loyalty to protect classified information, and turned it into a routine method for harassing dissenters, skirting EEO laws, and ridding the Department of anyone that anyone at any level in the hierarchy wants to fire, when no basis exists for doing so legally. 

To be fair, other agencies do this too. Once in a while, in very rare instances. But only State does so as a routine matter of course.  

The differences between State and every other agency are simple. Other agencies have oversight and quality-control mechanisms in place, and State does not. Despite years of complaints, State has steadfastly refused to implement even the most basic quality-control mechanisms mandated by law, much less the mechanisms suggested by AFSA and CFSO. This failure to implement basic management controls has been abetted by what is at least tacit complicity by State's highest-level managers and its Inspector General, which have studiously ignored pressure to address the issue.   

CFSO does not believe that FS members have an absolute right to free speech. We believe that every person who has a security clearance has an absolute responsibility to protect classified information, and we believe that those involved in national defense and international relations must be mindful of the fact that even unclassified statements could have negative consequences to individual or national security.

But we also believe that the Government must follow its own rules, and that employment by an agency's security apparatus should not convey immunity either from law or regulation, or from competence.

We hope that, instead of ignoring, as usual, the current outcry, State will learn from it. It's never too late to start following the rules, whether you are a rank and file employee or the head of State's security arm.