Battered Morale Watch. State Department Edition

There are a couple of stories that come up anytime there is a Republican in the White House. The top story that will be rediscovered is homelessness. By some freak law of economics we don’t quite understand, homelessness disappears whenever a Democrat is president and reappears with a vengeance when a Republican is elected. The second story that reappears will be how the morale of the federal workforce is suffering.


These days the mewling is mostly over the FBI and the hurty-pants things Donald Trump has said about some seemingly corrupt members of that organization.This one, however, takes the cake. Via CNN, the home of Saint Jake and where all the news is true: Exclusive: Frustrated State Department employees hire attorneys, charging ‘political retribution’.

A growing number of State Department employees are charging they are being put in career purgatory because of their previous work on policy priorities associated with President Barack Obama and in offices the Trump administration is interested in closing.

The situation has got so serious that several officials tell CNN they have retained attorneys after repeatedly trying unsuccessfully to raise concerns about being assigned to low-level jobs in Foggy Bottom such as answering Freedom of Information Act requests.

Uhhhh…when your job has been eliminated, you haven’t been the victim of political retribution. You made a crappy career choice. The only winner in this scenario are the lawyers on retainer. Virtually every federal job description contains “other duties as assigned.” The choice is to do what you’re told or resign. And, contrary to what the complainant in this sob story thinks, the graveyard is actually full of indispensable men.

A lot of the problem at State is a self-inflicted one. Under Clinton and Kerry that department decided that the Freedom of Information Act simply didn’t apply to them. This decision was made by political appointees, to be sure. But the policy was subscribed to by a civil service that agreed with the policies that Clinton and Kerry were pushing and signed on to make the processes and policies as opaque as possible. Now Rex Tillerson is under multiple court orders to clear the 22,000 ignored FOIA requests. People in lower priority activities, like ensure unimpeded buggery in Third World shithole countries, have been reassigned to processing FOIA requests.


But many of those assigned to the “FOIA Surge” effort resemble a band of misfit toys, including several ambassadors returning from overseas and senior career and civil service members who were detailed to other agencies. Others worked in offices created by Obama as policy priorities, which the Trump administration has announced it intends to close.

Ian Moss, a former Marine, joined the State Department during the Obama administration with a law degree as a part of the prestigious Presidential Management Fellows program. Moss worked for five years in the office of the Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure, where he led inter-agency delegations to negotiate transfers of dozens of Guantanamo detainees, before his boss seconded him to what was supposed to be a career-enhancing temporary assignment in the National Security Council in May 2016 where he worked as Director of Human Rights and National Security Issues. When President Trump took office, Moss remained in the post working for national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

McMaster sent Moss a letter last May, when his detail ended, praising his candid, thoughtful and high-quality advice.

When Moss returned for duty at the State Department in October, he expected to return to his old office dealing with Guantanamo detainees or be given similar work. Instead he was assigned under threat of disciplinary action to the FOIA task force his attorney tells CNN. While several of the 10 “FOIA surge teams” involve substantive matters that could benefit from his expertise, such as handling classified material and working with foreign governments named in the documents, Moss was assigned with data entry and research alongside interns and civil service employees more than 10 levels below his rank of GS-14.

Unable to resolve the matter internally, he sought assistance from NSC leadership to correct the problem with the State Department but was met with what his attorney Mark Zaid called “a non-productive response that failed to address the substance or the merits of the NSC’s concerns.”

“To date, no explanation or rationale has been provided as to how this reassignment is an effective allocation of Department resources, particularly given Mr. Moss’ specific expertise and skill sets,” Zaid wrote in a December 21 letter to Tillerson that he gave to CNN.

“Ian is a rising star and dedicated civil servant who should be leading diplomacy and national security policy formulation for decades to come, in both Democratic and Republican administrations,” says Lee Wolosky, the US special envoy for Guantanamo Closure under Obama and Moss’ most recent boss at the State Department. “What has happened to him since his return to State is disgraceful.”


I’m really trying to have sympathy for this guy but I can’t find my way clear to do that.

He was working on a project that is not only not a priority of the incoming administration, it is a project that they are shutting down. He elected to take a detailed assignment to the NSC. This cut him off from a network he should have been developing in State. At a minimum, he should have returned to State immediately following the election because a new administration was coming in and no matter how great and good he was, there would be other people wanting his job.

By hiring a lawyer and getting himself used as a poster child for crappy federal morale by CNN, he hasn’t given anyone the incentive to help him out. When I read this, I wanted to fire this little weasel myself.

I could really give a rat’s ass about the morale of Moss or any other federal employee. You make your own morale. Federal employees are a privileged caste of American workers with tenure, after three years on the job, and access to one of the few defined benefit pension plans still left standing. What Moss’s problem is is a sense of unfulfilled entitlement. He’s a genius. He entered civil service through a prestigious program. He had the opportunity to move into high visibility jobs very rapidly. Now the worm has turned. He made a couple of bad guesses about how to manage his career and he’s in limbo. Instead of shaking it off and looking for another way forward, he seems to feel his is still entitled to what he wants when he wants it. That’s unfortunate. Because adults know life doesn’t work that way.



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