Foreign Service Journal - June 2013 - page 46

JUNE 2013
The Bureau of Diplomatic
Security is the largest bureau
in the department, and one
of the fastest growing. It is
home to a wide variety of
specialists, including special
agents, security engineers,
security technical special-
ists and couriers. Its role
has evolved substantially
over the past decade, and
its relationship with the
rest of the department is so
complex that I have put off
writing about it because even
a dozen monthly columns
would barely scratch the
But DS employees make
up a significant number of
AFSA's constituents, and DS
is central to State’s mission.
So, as I near the end of my
term, I want to devote this
column to a brief overview of
the issues it handles.
There is an inherent and
necessary tension between
the core mission of DS and
the practice of diplomacy.
DS is, appropriately, uncom-
promising in its efforts to
protect safety and national
security. But other sections
of each post must be equally
uncompromising in seeking
to interact with host-country
populations. Balancing
these conflicting missions is
achieved, in part, by having
the regional security officer
report to the deputy chief
of mission, rather than the
management officer, and by
greater delegation of authori-
ties to emergency action
Diplomatic Security from 60,000 Feet
Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP.
Even so, few officers have
the full range of information,
knowledge and experience to
weigh the risks completely—
nor the resources or author-
ity to address every risk.
Washington must therefore
either more forcefully back
the decisions of those that
do, or, with full input from
all players, transparently do
so itself. Either way, it must
ensure that the decision
makers have the authority to
effect change, and not merely
responsibility for doing so.
The bureau’s mission
requires specialized and,
sometimes, proprietary skills
not generally possessed by
employees outside DS. Many
of these skills are minimally
introduced in schools or
training and, instead, must
be mastered through experi-
ence. An ever-increasing
range of responsibilities
necessarily requires exposing
RSOs—the generalists of the
DS world—to take on an ever-
increasing range of duties.
For these reasons, DS
manages the careers and
assignments of its employ-
ees more tightly than other
bureaus. Its leadership
asserts that the process is
collaborative, transparent
and necessary to ensure that
all employees gain needed
experience—but employees
complain of limited bidding
options, reduced ability to
chart their own careers,
fewer out-of-cone possi-
bilities and susceptibility to
front-office favorites. AFSA
has seen occasional indica-
tions of assignments being
made to reward or punish
DS's mission also requires
procedures and certifications
that impact duty-station,
availability, work-life balance,
Special-Agent Law Enforce-
ment Availability Pay and
other issues. Several func-
tions require special suit-
ability determinations, such
as fitness-for-duty examina-
tions. Others impose unique
reporting requirements;
for example, a requirement
that special agents report
medications they are taking
to supervisors and the Office
of Medical Services. These
may be written into standard
operating procedures, or the
Foreign Affairs Manual sec-
tions, or left undefined, and
may even give an individual
the ability to decide the fate
of a subordinate at will. On
the whole, our concern is that
DS employees do not always
appear to enjoy the protec-
tions guaranteed by stan-
dardized human resources
DS special agents may
face legal issues other FS
members do not, including
rules for carrying firearms.
Unique rules apply to
employees authorized to
carry arms. For these rea-
sons, among others, SAs are
held to “higher standards” in
certain areas of conduct. This
makes it all the more vital to
ensure transparent, written
explanations of expectations
of DS employees.
For a number of reasons,
including limited resources,
the need to prioritize basic
training of new hires, the
need to staff high-risk posts,
and perception among SAs
that other work is more
“promotable,” most SAs do
not receive adequate con-
tinuing training in criminal
investigations, and only
superficial training, if any,
in the separate discipline of
security clearance investiga-
tions. The domestic offices
where such skills are honed
are equally considered less-
desirable postings. A lower
focus on investigations than
on management or protec-
tion affects all subjects of DS
investigations—DS and other
employees alike.
Finally, AFSA has concerns
about techniques some-
times used in investigations,
and about instances where
investigative reports seem
narrowly focused or contain
opinions that could preju-
dice a case. The Office of the
Inspector General has noted
a lack of standardization and
the possibility for influence
by others in the chain of
command. This is especially
important in administra-
tive cases, which offer fewer
safeguards and protections
to the employee than crimi-
nal cases. The long-planned
construction of a DS training
facility and greater focus on,
and institutional support for,
the investigative function,
would help.
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