Page 48 - FSJ June 2012

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This month, I have invitedDouglas Broome, AFSA/USAID senior
labor management adviser, to share the following critical infor-
mation.
S
ince January 2001, my principal responsibility in AFSA
has involved helpingUSAIDForeign Service officers deal
with job-related problems. These range from discipline
cases (including separation for cause and suspensions) to prob-
lems with evaluations, money, vouchers, investigations, super-
visory relationships and medical issues, among others.
And for six years before that, I worked at the Foreign Service
Grievance Board, where employee appeals of forcible termi-
nations, discipline, financial issues and unfavorable evaluations
are adjudicated. So not much surprises me anymore in terms
of the problems employees experience.
What does surpriseme, though, is howoften employees com-
pound their own problems. Even after realizing that something
is amiss, they all too often dig their hole deeper. It is only then
that they turn to AFSA for help.
The Office of the Inspector General investigates employee
behavior regularly. These investigations usually, but not always,
lead to proposals by the Office of Human Resources for disci-
plinary action. They may also be sent to the U.S. Department
of Justice for criminal or civil prosecution consideration.
It is not unusual for an employee to have no forewarning
before an OIG investigator walks into his or her office, flashes
a badge and wants to talk. Typically, the employee’s first reac-
tion is a gut-wrenching jolt of anxiety. The second is to talk
too much.
Foreign Service employees are in the wordsmith business,
so frequently, their first instinct is to try to talk their way out
of the situation. But without consultation with AFSA (or oth-
ers in a position to help), such loquaciousness usually back-
fires.
Employees need to know their specific rights and obligations
during an investigation. AFSA’s authoritative document,
“Guidance for Employees Involved in Investigations,” is just what
you need. It’s on AFSA’s Web site at
www.afsa.org/ig_and_
ds_investigation_guidance.aspx. Memorize it.
Keep in mind that the OIG investigator is not obliged to
inform you of your rights when initiating an interview. You
must already know what your rights are and invoke them.
Another thing to consider is that sometimes OIG reports
may contain flaws of fact, interpretation and even omission of
exculpatory information. Regardless, onemust defend against
these reports.
Questioning by agents of the Department of State’s Bureau
of Diplomatic Security happens not only to State employees,
but to those at the U.S. Agency for International Development,
as well. USAID’s Office of Security functions similarly to DS
in most respects.
Ever heard of a “GarrityWarning”? How about a “Kalkines
Warning”? Google themboth now! In addition, see the excel-
lent article “SecurityClearances: KnowYour Rights,” byMichael
J. Hannon, in the September 2005
Foreign Service Journal
(www.afsa.org/Portals/0/knowyourrights.pdf).
Defense against a discipline proposal gets very expensive, very
fast. The government does not reimburse for employees’ legal
expenses.
Fortunately, AFSA offers a Professional Liability Insurance
Plan, whose annual premium costs less than one hour of an
attorney’s consultation time. For some employees, USAIDwill
even share the annual premium cost (see ADS 537).
Information about the policy is found on the AFSA Web site
at
www.afsa.org/insurance_plans.aspx. Yo
u can also check out
the ads in the
FSJ
for other options.
Facing suspension or separation for cause, such represen-
tation can be essential to saving one’s professional hide. One
recent separation-for-cause proposal by USAID resulted in a
reversal. The employee got his job and promotion back. As a
bonus, his $100,000+ legal fees were fully covered by the pol-
icy.
Without paid-for attorney fees, employees face financial evis-
ceration. I have seen many cases like this. By the way, know
that USAID may not separate a Foreign Service employee for
cause— it may only propose separation to the Foreign Service
Grievance Board, which approves or disapproves the separa-
tion.
Something elseworth remembering: for good reason or bad,
any disgruntled employee, former employee, contractor, for-
mer spouse, spurned paramour or other interlocutor, can, by
dint of a mere anonymous phone call, turn your life into hell
— a very expensive one.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at (202)
712-0947 or
dbroome@usaid.gov.
V.P. VOICE:
USAID
BY FRANCISCO ZAMORA
Before You Open Your
Mouth, Know Your Rights
Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA USAID VP.
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