Saturday, April 22, 2017

CFSO Supports Ken Kero Mentz, John Naland, in AFSA Governing Board Elections

AFSA Governing Board elections have begun. With many positions uncontested, CFSO has not endorsed candidates for any position other than the contested State Vice President Position - for which we strongly endorse Ken Kero-Mentz, and the Retiree Vice President race, for which we equally strongly endorse John Naland.

Our reasons are simple: both are by far the more experienced candidates, and both have long histories of service not only to our mutual employers, but to our Foreign Service colleagues. We strongly urge all CFSO members to vote to elect John Naland as Retiree Vice President, and Ken Kero-Mentz as State VP.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

AFSA's Proposed Bylaw Amendment Would Give Management The Ability To Veto AFSA Candidates

It is admittedly a difficult question:

All things being equal, who do you trust more to represent your interests?

A Foreign Service colleague who chooses to run for AFSA’s Governing Board to negotiate on behalf of Foreign Service employees?  

Or the management of the State Department?

All things being equal, do you want to have free and open elections for AFSA’s Governing Board?

Or do you want to turn control for selecting candidates over to State Department management?

In today’s email to members, AFSA's current Governing Board has made its position known: it trusts management more than it trusts our Foreign Service colleagues. 

It wants, specifically, to enact a change to AFSA’s bylaws that will make it possible for management to veto the candidacy of any prospective President or Vice President of AFSA, by performing virtually the only act that it can perform with neither oversight nor transparency: suspend their security clearance.

AFSA puts the matter differently of course. Defending a proposal to make any candidate with a suspended security clearance ineligible to run for a senior AFSA elected office (President or VP) , it states:

"The intent of this bylaw change is to strengthen AFSA by preventing a potential conflict of interest that could arise when an active-duty AFSA president or one of the constituency vice presidents–the main AFSA officers who negotiate with management–does not have a valid security clearance. The potential conflict of interest arises because the AFSA officer is reliant on management to approve his or her appeal to reinstate the security clearance."

That seems like a no-brainer. And like many no-brainers, it is designed to appeal primarily to people who have no brains. Or at least, who don’t use their brains to think the matter thoroughly through. 

So let’s think this proposal through together.

Let’s begin with the question of what is a candidate, and what type of candidate normally runs for an AFSA position.

A candidate is someone who puts forth their candidacy for election. Becoming a candidate is the first step in a process in which the electorate votes, and chooses from the available candidates that person in whom they repose the greatest degree of confidence and trust – the person they choose to represent them.

In the AFSA context, there is a campaign in which the candidates express their views, there is the opportunity to place a short statement in the Foreign Service Journal, there is a town hall meeting at which the candidates give speeches and answer questions, and there is an online forum in which candidates can continue to respond to questions from the electorate before the election. Most candidates also reach out through websites, mailings, ads in the Foreign Service Journal, or other means. Then the electorate votes, and selects the candidate they choose to be their representative. 

While that process is certainly not foolproof, it does ensure that the person who ends up elected to the AFSA Board is the person, from among the colleagues who chose to run for the position,  that the AFSA membership chose to represent them. If a particular candidate were deemed untrustworthy, he or she would most likely not win the election. 

The rather unlikely, and purely theoretical, conflict of interest addressed by this bylaw amendment could not exist at all if a candidate with a suspended security clearance were simply not elected.

In AFSA’s context, in the context of a union or bargaining unit that represents the interests of its membership, a typical candidate for office is someone who is motivated to represent the interests of the members. Such a person might never have had any personal reason to fight for the rights and benefits of his or her colleagues, but in AFSA’s context, the normal situation is, in fact, that AFSA candidates, by and large, have some personal “skin in the game.” That “skin” may be as simple as being a member of an affinity group, or it may be, indeed, that they were “politically awakened” by some event in their own careers, or that of a colleague, that caused them to realize the value of collective bargaining, and of the lack of sympathy or empathy that a large bureaucracy can show its employees. 

This is particularly true of candidates for the AFSA Vice President positions, who will essentially put their careers on hold to serve in an out of cone – indeed out of service – position for two years at a time to dedicate themselves exclusively to the task of representing their colleagues. 

The assumption that AFSA’s Board now makes – that such a person is likely to be vulnerable to a subtle and implied, theoretical form of blackmail – is contrary to the profile of most of AFSA’s elected officers over the last three decades. On the contrary, people who have been motivated to put their careers on hold in order to run for union office are far more likely to expose corruption than succumb to it.

And again, AFSA’s electorate can decide for themselves, during the election, what they think of the candidate. If they don’t trust the candidate, they don’t have to elect them. And again, in that event, the potential for conflict of interest is zero.

With that all understood, the question must be asked: what is the advantage to the Foreign Service of limiting the pool of candidates for AFSA’s elected offices?  

Why not give AFSA members the largest possible pool of candidates to choose from, and trust in their judgement to choose the person they want as a representative?

And if the pool is to be limited, is a security clearance – which can be suspended through no fault whatsoever of the employee - really the place to start?  

What about someone with a valid clearance but an open disciplinary matter? Would a person under investigation for, say, misusing government vehicles, have less of a potential conflict of interest than someone whose second cousin three times removed had just become an officer in some other country’s intelligence services? 

Not to mention the traditional hope, by nearly every AFSA President, that an AFSA Presidency will lead to a first, or another, Ambassadorship? 

Or a person with an entirely different, but equally compelling personal agenda, like wanting to increase opportunities for tandems, or automatically including dependent parents as EFMs?  

A person with an open disciplinary matter has just as much to lose if they annoy management as someone with suspended clearance.  And a person who is hoping for an Ambassadorship probably has greater incentive than anyone to curry favor with the Department’s highest-ups. Indeed, AFSA's history is rich with do-nothing AFSA Presidents who have gone on to receive Ambassadorships and Principal Officer-ships immediately after leaving their AFSA positions.  

And the weak position that anyone with something to gain by currying favor with management would automatically face a conflict of interest in negotiating with that management could equally well apply, well, to anyone with any interest in any matter under management;'s control.  

With that in mind, of course, AFSA already has a code of ethics that requires AFSA Officers to recuse themselves from certain negotiations if they, or anyone else, alleges a conflict of interest. That would apply equally to any matter, regardless of what the proposed conflict might be.  

But there is a special quality to a security clearance suspension. It is the only personnel action that the Department can take unilaterally, for nearly any reason whatsoever, with nearly no transparency and no recourse available to the employee, unless the agency moves to revoke the clearance completely. 

It is the only personnel process that is entirely independent of the employees own actions. 

A clearance can obviously be suspended because of bad behavior, but it can also be suspended because one’s soon to be ex-spouse took up with a Russian lover, one’s second cousin three times removed got a promotion on some other country’s government, or one’s credit score dropped precipitously because one’s property manager neglected to pay the mortgage on time. And it can be suspended, temporarily for any period of time, because the Department has decided, for any reason whatsoever, that questions have arisen bearing further investigation.  

Suspension does not mean revocation. It means suspension, pending investigation and clarification of a matter, which the government is not obliged to reveal unless it moves to revoke the clearance altogether. That is why, across the government, security clearance suspension is the tool of choice for silencing whistleblowers and dissenters. It is the only process that can be used to circumvent nearly every Title 5 protection any Government employee who needs a clearance, has.

And it is, of course, a process that, if AFSA’s proposed bylaw were enacted, would give the State Department virtually 100 percent veto power over the candidacy of any employee whom management felt might not support their interests.

So who gets to choose?  Do AFSA members get to select the candidate they want from among the largest pool possible of interested colleagues, and weigh, among other factors, that person’s clearance status if it is something they care about?

Or does management get to veto candidates before the elections begin, suspending – just long enough to prevent their candidacy – the clearance of any person they feel won’t play ball in a sufficiently chummy manner?

Think it through. It is, admittedly, a question that requires thought. 

Then vote "NO" on AFSA's bylaw amendment. 

And write to AFSA asking why, for example, they put this proposed bylaw amendment ahead of term limits, or limits on the amount of time that has passed since a retiree governing board member left the service, or rebuilding AFSA's decimated lobbying staff. 

Why has AFSA failed to increase, as promised, its efforts to represent the Foreign Service to the American public at large, to help us build a constituency to protect us against looming cuts in salary and hiring?

Why has it fired - and not replaced - its lobbying staff? 

Why does it have fewer lawyers than it used to have?  

There are things that matter far more to AFSA members than this weak, ill-considered amendment.  

But not, apparently, to AFSA's current governing board.