By Patricia H. Kushlis
Remember Joan Wadelton’s long running battle against the State Department’s Bureau of Human Resources that I reported here on March 14, 2012?
In case you missed it, the post is well worth reading. But I understand that lots of people did read it because I know that the post entitled “State Department Human Resources – A System Run Amok” circulated widely throughout the State Department, at US Embassies, Consulates and Missions abroad as well as elsewhere.
It is just the latest in a series of WhirledView posts over the last four years on corruption in State's personnel system. I understand that people forwarded it to friends and colleagues. It was also picked up by other blogs with a substantial number of readers throughout the State Department, on the Hill and elsewhere in the foreign affairs and defense communities.
Private comments have come from readers at the e-mail address I included at the end of the “Run Amok” post. The most recent response (April 24) was a poignant recounting of continuing nepotism in State’s HR system. As I promised in that post, I continue to assure confidentiality to anyone who writes me privately. However, I feel secure in highlighting here some of the major themes that have emerged:
-- All respondents believed what I wrote -- not a single person has tried to rebut anything in the post (or any of my previous posts on the topic);
-- Respondents were horrified by Joan's story and expressed sympathy for her and outrage against her treatment;
-- Several sent me stories about their own problems with State HR. I cannot corroborate the problems or the stories but every one is consistent with what my own separate investigations have uncovered;
-- The single most troubling discovery about State's Office of Inspector General is that rather than engaging in benign neglect – or better yet showing complete impartiality as should be the case -- the OIG comes across as an active and malignant presence in investigations of individual claims against HR’s behavior. This is reinforced by allegations that the OIG's practice of reporting the names of complainants about HR to HR management – rather than to investigate their charges or simply keep the individual’s confidentiality -- has also occurred with complaints filed in other Bureaus.
Joan is not alone.
It has been clear for some time. Joan is far from alone. The question is: how many other State Department employees have also been hurt by the corruption in the system? And when did it begin?
As a consequence, Joan has agreed to let me blog her case as it progresses. So, a warning: This post is the first of a series of regular follow-ups.
Joan has been in litigation with HR for eight years. What began as a dispute over her promotion into the Senior Foreign Service rapidly turned into a saga of whistleblowing by Joan about rampant corruption in HR, countered by ongoing retaliation against her. Her case centers around 15 reconstituted promotion boards held in 2006 and 2011, which HR says ranked her at the bottom, using this bizarre claim to fire her in December 2011.
To bloster her case, Joan has a decision from the Foreign Service Grievance Board citing severe irregularities in reconstituted promotion boards HR held for her in 2006. In addition, a State Department Inspector General's report of March 2010 substantiates her main claims regarding corruption in HR's administration of the promotion process (my regular WV readers will recall the shocking fact that the OIG refused to investigate the very same problems it had uncovered). See the report and my analysis below:
She also has a long series of suspicious documents produced by HR relating to her reconstituted promotion boards, including six held in 2011, that appear to have been extensively altered (note that a federal statute makes it a crime to alter an official government document or interfere with an official government proceeding). Joan is currently facing off against HR in federal district court.
Welcome to the Job, Linda
Linda Thomas-Greenfield is now assuming her duties as Director General, the head of State's Human Resources Bureau. By odd coincidence, HR contends that she sat on one of Joan's 2006 reconstituted promotion boards. What is claimed to be Thomas-Greenfield's signature is shown on a document dated March 9, 2006, which -- according to HR – is purportedly the final candidate rankings by that board. And yet, we have e-mails between Melinda Chandler (an HR grievance attorney) and Thomas-Greenfield, in which Thomas-Greenfield does not recall participating in this 2006 board (although she is quite specific about her participation in a 2004 board).
In response to that e-mail, Chandler cites a commendation Thomas-Greenfield received for sitting on Joan's 2006 board. According to Chandler, this commendation was issued on March 1, 2006 -- eight days before the board supposedly met (echoing HR's formalization of the final results of three of Joan's six reconstituted 2006 boards before those boards had supposedly met). A rather unique soothsaying ability HR seems to possess.
So what is to be made of this apparent discrepancy? Did she or didn’t she? Is Thomas-Greenfield simply a busy individual who doesn’t always keep her records up to date? That could easily be. All of us forget things -- I certainly do. Or has someone been forging the signatures of unwitting US government officials on official US government documents? As it turns out, Thomas-Greenfield was not the only person shown as having sat on one of Joan's boards who denied doing so -- there were others.
Moreover, I’ve seen a sworn statement which reinforces the notion that HR has signed off on the results of reconstituted promotion boards without permission from board members. In that instance, an individual testified that she sat on a reconstituted promotion board (not one of Joan's) and -- as often seems to be the case -- not all board members were present at the deliberations, making it impossible to know how each candidate had been ranked.
The individual told HR staff that she would not sign off on the final candidate rankings until she had seen the scores turned in by the missing board members. When the individual went to HR's offices to review and sign the final candidate rankings, HR staff informed her that she didn't need to see the documents, that they had been put away, and that HR -- against the individual's express wishes -- had signed off for her (long-time WV readers should not be surprised to learn that this courageous person has suffered vicious retaliation at the hands of HR ever since).
Too much time has elapsed for us to know what really happened, and no one can credibly come forward six years after the fact claiming a clarifying burst of memory. But please, Download Thomas Greenfield E-mail Exchange and review these documents yourself.
At Least They have a Sense of Humor
Right now, Joan's case consists of her superb record and fraudulent documents, dubious witness testimony and suspicious e-mails produced by HR. State's case consists of Joan's superb record and fraudulent documents, dubious witness testimony and suspicious e-mails produced by HR. State will need every persuasive argument it can muster to convince a federal judge that it has a solid defense. Many of the arguments it has already used -- with Joan, before the Foreign Service Grievance Board, and before the federal district court -- show that HR and their friends in State's Legal Advisor's Office at least have a sense of humor, because no sane person could take the arguments seriously.
Over time HR has claimed that:
-- Joan should be penalized for not having gone overseas in recent years (never mind those Iraq assignments). Yet when she applied for overseas postings HR denied them because Joan is in the middle of a grievance – the perennial Catch-22;
-- Contrary to statistical probability, in spite of her superb record, and in the face of State's promotion system which tends toward the random even when honestly administered, Joan has come in last in 15, according to HR, out of 15 reconstituted promotion boards;
-- State has argued before the federal district court that although the March 2010 OIG report on promotions in the Foreign Service may have cited the exact same irregularities that Joan cites in her claim, since the report doesn't mention Joan by name, it doesn't count as evidence in her case;
-- HR is itself able to investigate credible claims of wrongdoing made against it, conducting thorough investigations where – no surprises -- no HR malfeasance is ever uncovered. Hmm, what’s this about possible conflict of interest?
-- Joan must report all contacts she has with the Hill concerning HR wrongdoing to HR
-- despite the lack of any legal obligation to do so (she refused and Congress was predictably underwhelmed with HR’s edict);
-- HR is able to take seemingly impossible leaps into the future and to act on things that have not yet happened – like reporting promotion board results before the boards ever met.
A Cover-up Coming Up?
No, actually it's already here. It has been all along. For example, at a much earlier stage in her case, Joan asked the Office of Special Counsel to look into her allegations of HR wrongdoing. HR "vigorously resisted" (in the OSC's words) allowing OSC staff question key State witnesses, instead insisting that witnesses give written testimony -- testimony that was taken and processed by HR. Not surprisingly, these documents are as suspicious as everything else HR has produced regarding Joan.
Now, legal wrangling has begun, in which both sides ask to have certain documents and testimony included in the record before the court. As long ago as last year, State opposed inclusion of one key set of documents -- the originals of the score sheets from Joan's 2011 reconstituted boards -- which appear to have been extensively and crudely altered ( Download Joan Score Sheet where you may view the documents yourself). And last week, State again refused to produce the originals of those score sheets.
Why? What are they hiding? My guess? If the documents still exist, I suspect they would be incredibly damning.
Or have they long since been destroyed? If so, who decided to destroy official documents that are key evidence in a federal judicial case?
State has also opposed allowing Joan's attorneys access to members of the 2011 reconstituted boards who -- according to HR -- produced the aforesaid apparently white-out encrusted score sheets. Why again? Because the board members would be quick to disavow the score sheets?
I predict that these and other requests from Joan's legal team will be vigorously resisted by the US government to keep a substantial amount of damning information out of federal district court and the public eye.
Have We Reached a Million Dollars Yet...
in hours billable to the taxpayers for Joan's case? A case which one might speculate has been built entirely on fraud? What is so important that HR has pursued Joan for the last eight years? Whatever it is, it has cost the American people a bundle in salaries and other expenses. Think about it -- since 2004, there’s the time of:
- multiple attorneys in HR plus various managers and their staffs;
- investigators and other staff in the State OIG (no matter how useless);
- attorneys, investigators and other staff in the Office of Special Counsel;
- judges and other staff at the Foreign Service Grievance Board;
- attorneys and other staff in the State Department's Office of the Legal Advisor;
- attorneys and other staff at various levels of the Justice Department and finally;
- a very senior federal judge and her clerks and other staff.
If State officials had to set forth a reason for this vast expenditure of resources to Congress or the American people -- what would they say? No rational reason comes to my mind, that's for sure.
. . . Stay tuned.
Related WV posts
State Department Human Resources, a System RunAmok, March 14, 2012
A Whistle Blown at State, Finally, November 23, 2010
Smoking Gun or Whitewash: the Continuing State Department Human Resources Saga, October 12, 2010 with November 17, 2010 Update
The Broom’s April Check Up, April 16, 2010
System in Need of a Large Broom: Buyer Beware, December 2, 2009
Clean Up Time at Foggy Bottom, March 9, 2009
Favoritism in the Ranks Saga Continues at State, May 27, 2008
Why the AFSA Survey Was Right, February 26, 2008