Federal Oversight

IG: leaders harassed and abused staff at the State Department

Leadership at the Department of State’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs created a “vindictive” environment for employees determined to be “disloyal” to the Trump administration, according to an Aug. 15 report by the agency’s Inspector General.

“OIG found evidence of leadership and management deficiencies and mistreatment of career employees in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs. These inappropriate practices included disrespectful and hostile treatment of employees, accusations against and harassment of career employees premised on claims that they were ‘disloyal’ based on their perceived political views, and retaliation associated with conflicts of interest,” the report said.

“OIG also found that numerous employees raised concerns about the IO leadership to department management officials outside of IO and that department officials counseled IO leadership; however, the Assistant Secretary for IO, Kevin Moley, did not take significant action to respond to such concerns.”

According to the report, Moley and his former senior advisor Mari Stull routinely assigned work to staff without going through the normal reporting structure to ensure that the staff had enough time or experience to accomplish the assignment. Moley and Stull would then berate employees for failing to accomplish the assigned tasks.

“In fact, one IO employee told OIG that working with Ms. Stull involved ‘six to eight hostile interactions per day,’” the report said.

“For example, in April 2018, Ms. Stull asked a mid-level employee, without going through the employee’s supervisors, for information about another nation’s contributions to the UN. Ms. Stull did not believe the data provided was accurate, called the work product ‘garbage,’ and threw it at another employee.”

Moley and Stull also reportedly berated employees for following established procedures both before and after their arrival at the agency, according to the OIG.

Stull also reportedly referred to some career employees as “swamp,” “Obama holdovers” and the “Deep State,” while praising employees that had contributed to Republican campaigns.

“OIG notes one illustrative example. Shortly after Assistant Secretary Moley and Ms. Stull arrived at the Department in April 2018, a career employee accompanied a congressional delegation of members of the Congressional Black Caucus to the UN. According to IO officials, IO routinely accompanies such delegations, regardless of the composition of the delegation, because it allows IO to identify any pressing issues of congressional concern,” the report said.

“However, when the employee returned from the trip, Ms. Stull expressed displeasure with her for accompanying the Congressional Black Caucus delegation because it consisted of only Democratic members. Ms. Stull accused the employee of trying to ‘thwart’ President Trump and undermine his agenda. After the trip, many of the employee’s job responsibilities were taken away. The employee reported that she was excluded from all sensitive discussions and was effectively no longer IO’s congressional point of contact.”

In this June 7, 2017, photo, then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe appears before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, on Capitol Hill in Washington. McCabe has sued the FBI and the Justice Department over his firing. (Alex Brandon/AP)
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The lawsuit, the second this week from an ex-FBI official challenging the circumstances of his termination, says the firing was part of Trump's plan to rid the bureau of leaders he perceived as disloyal to him.

The report also found that Stull had likely retaliated against an employee that refused to help her in a conflict of interest.

“Prior to her tenure at the Department, Ms. Stull was employed with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN and filed an administrative claim regarding her employment with the UN. During this time, she tried to enlist an employee of the IO Bureau to advocate with the FAO to resolve the claim in her favor and to provide her with legal advice,” the report said.

The employee consulted with the Office of the Legal Adviser and was told that it was not advisable for him to advocate for her, which the employee communicated to Stull. Upon her arrival at the agency, Stull reportedly complained repeatedly about the employee’s performance and removed him from typical duties for his position, despite several positive performance reviews and recognition as an expert in the food security space.

Stull also criticized the employee’s manager for encouraging him to seek advice from the Office of the Legal Adviser in the first place.

“Ms. Stull’s criticism of these employees and her attempts to remove job responsibilities from the employee whose assistance she sought appear likely to have been based on her belief that the individuals did not provide her with sufficient assistance in her private employment dispute,” the report said.

“The positive recognition previously received by the employees and their history of strong performance cast doubt on other possible justifications, particularly given Ms. Stull’s short tenure with the Department at the time she began raising these criticisms.”

Despite repeated employee complaints, leadership reportedly minimized complaints and diverted blame, and Moley failed to take action to address concerns raised by increasingly senior leaders at the State Department.

Employees told the IG that the problems had resulted in a morale problem at the agency, contributing to retention challenges that saw 50 of the 300 domestic IO employees leave since Moley took over the agency’s leadership.

The IG made two recommendations for the Department of State’s under secretary for political affairs to develop a corrective action plan to address the leadership and management deficiencies and consider whether disciplinary action is appropriate for the conduct described in the report.

Although the department agreed with the two recommendations, Moley’s response to the report said that the IG had “mischaracterized” certain incidents and that he disputed some actions described in the report.

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