Retaliation was thriving at the State Department

Just when you think appointed officials finally get it, out comes a lurid report detailing klutzy appointees bullying and harassing career people. I’m referring to the dryly-named report out last week from the State Department inspector general: “Review of Allegations of Politicized and Other Improper Personnel Practices in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs.”

The now-widely sampled report reads like a what-no-to-do — yelling, bullying, berating and worse. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should stay home for a few days and personally step in to calm the waters. This might not be the last IG report on such behavior at the State Department.

IO, as the Bureau of International Organization Affairs is known, looks after US interests at the nited Nations and lesser multi-national groups. Kevin Moley has run IO since March of last year. Moley is not some rube. He had several diplomatic jobs during the George W. Bush administration. He also held appointed positions at the Department of Health and Human Services during the George H.W. Bush administration, including as vice chairman of the old Council on Management Improvement. He knows a thing or two about political-career relations and leadership, or ought to. He’s also a former Marine.

But, according to the IG report, current and former IO employees said Moley and a former Schedule C adviser, Mari Stull, “frequently berated employees, raised their voices, and generally engaged in unprofessional behavior toward staff.” In one instance he and Stull hollered at a junior desk officer for routing a document a notch up the chain of command for approval, as required under normal procedures. Moley and Stull wanted it routed directly to them. The staff members ended up crying.

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Stull’s tenure at State, which ended late last year, reads like a caricature of the bad political appointee. She moonlights as a wine blogger with the handle Vino Vixen, though at State, her alleged compilation of loyalty lists produced nothing but sour grapes.

Both Moley and Stull were counseled to improve their behavior by senior State offices, all the way up to Deputy Secretary John Sullivan.

Worse, according to the IG, Moley fired a career diplomat — a principal deputy assistant secretary —  with 25 years of Foreign Service experience “because she raised concerns regarding the management and leadership issues …” What Moley should have done when confronted with the issues is say, “Jeez, you’re right. I’m going to apologize and dial it back.” Instead, the IG reports, he harrumphed at the very idea.

The dismissal of the career official occupies several pages of the IG report. It occurred against the counsel of Sullivan. The IG calls the dismissal unrelated to merit-based factors, saying it was more a case of whistleblower retaliation.

The Moley-Stull dynamic duo also messed up the merit principles-based selection of a new deputy director for the Office of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. It deals with the UN Human Rights Council. The ostensible reason was that Moley expected the U.S. to withdraw from the HRC. Yet it filled the position anyway after that. Stull had publicly criticized the person forwarded as the top candidate.

Underlying the mistreatment of employees and Moley’s and Stull’s distrust is politics. No surprise there, except for what reads like naked contempt for people. Maybe it looked to them like employees in IO weren’t on board with shifts in policy between the Obama and Trump administrations? Perhaps some weren’t, but there’s a way to deal with it.

That way is not to call them traitors, holdovers or part of the swamp, as the IG alleges they did.

Policy swings — and they are real and wide — can feel particularly acute at agencies like State or the Environmental Protection Agency. Employees are obligated to execute policy in a legal manner. Political appointees have the right to expect cooperation. For that matter, so do newly appointed Senior Executive Service members and other career executives. But with that expectation is the obligation to exercise discretion and proper human relations. A presidential appointment to an important post is a privilege and a trust, not a license to go in and wreck things.

Human relations sounds corny. But it’s an amazingly powerful tool for gaining understanding and cooperation. The confident and capable military and civilian leaders understand this. It’s amazing what people will do if you show respect. At the IO, leadership ought to try it.

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