The Foreign Service Journal - November 2014 - page 80

AFSA believes that people are the Foreign Service’s greatest
asset. We therefore strive to ensure that the State Department
is taking full advantage of the talents of our diverse, profes-
sional and innovative diplomatic workforce. One of AFSA’s
priority issues, included in the 2013-2015 strategic plan, is to
promote transparency and fairness in security clearances.
To serve in the Foreign Service one must hold and maintain
a valid top-secret security clearance. The State Department’s
Bureau of Diplomatic Security determines whether to grant a
clearance based on governmentwide Adjudicative Guidelines
(available on the State Department Intranet).
AFSA supports the need for and principles of the security
clearance process. However, AFSA has concerns about two
aspects of its current implementation: assignment restrictions
and what is commonly known as the “pass-through” program.
The Assignment Restriction Program
The assignment restriction program is administered by DS’
Office of Personnel, Security and Suitability. In a limited num-
ber of cases, DS places a restriction on the employee’s secu-
rity clearance (i.e., limiting the posts where employees can
serve and, in some cases, the issues on which the employee
can work).
These assignment restrictions (also known as preclusions)
may be placed on the employee at the time of hire or, subse-
quently, when there is a change in the employee’s familial situ-
ation (e.g., marriage to or cohabitation with a foreign national).
The restrictions are driven by the Department of State’s inter-
est in protecting the employee from potential undue foreign
influence (see Adjudicative Guideline B).
Assignment restrictions are a useful risk mitigation tool,
but like any tool that limits agency and employee options, they
require oversight to ensure proper application. The assign-
ment restriction may, for instance, deprive the agency of an
employee’s valuable language skills and regional expertise. In
some cases the State Department has specifically recruited an
employee for his or her language skills, only to have Diplomatic
Security apply an assignment restriction that precludes the
employee from utilizing that language on overseas assign-
At the same time, an employee who expected to specialize
in a region and finds that he or she is subject to an assignment
Assignment Restriction and Pass-Through
Reform at the Department of State
restriction will face the prospect of shifting his or her focus to
a different language or regional emphasis. This may put that
employee at a disadvantage compared to his or her colleagues
who entered with a foreign-language proficiency without such
restriction. Moreover, while the assignment restrictions are
not intended to be a reflection of the employee’s loyalty to the
country, employees with restrictions often perceive them as
“Pass-Through” Program
In addition to preclusions, a Foreign Service member’s
assignments also can be affected by what is colloquially known
as the “pass-through” program. Administered by Diplomatic
Security’s Office of Counter Intelligence (DS/ICI/CI), the
program evaluates employees who have been proposed for
assignment to a critical Human Intelligence (HUMINT) threat
post (see 12 FAM 263.3-2). This program constitutes a sepa-
rate DS vetting process for employees who do not already have
an assignment restriction, although on occasion the pass-
through program can result in a restriction.
Under the pass-through program, DS/ICI/CI evaluates
security and suitability factors that could adversely affect an
employee’s suitability for assignment in light of the heightened
HUMINT threat and any personal vulnerability potentially
subject to HUMINT exploitation. While the potential for foreign
influence is one of the criteria under the pass-through pro-
gram, other criteria include a history of poor security prac-
tices, drug or alcohol abuse, emotional instability, financial
mismanagement and previous service at the same post.
After reviewing an employee’s security file, DS/ICI/CI pre-
pares a recommendation to the Director General of the Foreign
Service with respect to an employee’s suitability for assign-
ment. The DG may accept or reject DS’ recommendation.
DS must provide the DG with all pertinent information
relating to its recommendation upon the DG’s request (see
12 FAM 263.3-2(c)). If the DG accepts DS’ recommendation
to deny such an assignment—that is, if the employee fails
pass-through—the employee is notified. He or she may file an
appeal with the DG within 10 days.
AFSA believes both the assignment restriction program
and the pass-through program lack adequate mechanisms for
employees to appeal these determinations.
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