First of all, congratulations for standing on principle. It’s a tough thing to do in an unprincipled environment. You probably wonder why your DCM and ambassador didn’t back you in your legitimate discovery/complaint. Welcome to the club, welcome to the real foreign service.
My colleague is right in the advice he offered. Think long and hard about how you want to proceed. The organization has sent you their signals through the lack of professional response of the grievance folks in HR. HR attorneys are the worst, in my experience, for using process to protect the institution against the rights of the individual. HR has the power to deny you future assignments, deny you promotions, deny you any lateral movement within the foreign policy establishment. They shut down my grievance without barely a thought, without the slightest consideration as to its merits. They are already signalling that they will do the same to you.
When all institutional paths revealed themselves to be dead ends, and only then, I sought out the press. Of course, members of the press have their own agendas that may only briefly and peripherally align with your own. That is a risk you have to weigh. In retrospect I did some things right, but I made some mistakes. I went with a young foreign policy writer I thought I knew, but it turned out he was only trying to use my story as a prop to propel his own career. He sat on the story for months and the delay caused me weeks of sleepness nights. In the interim, a more seasoned correspondent reached out to me and I met with her. She did a short piece that ended up getting the story out and getting the first guy off the pot with his story.
Once it’s out, the deluge begins. Everybody and their brother will want a piece of you. At this point you just have to resist. I told Chris Wallace no, I told LA Times no, I told Reuthers no, I refused the offer to read my poem on CBS Sunday Morning, I told dozens of folks no and referred them to Department Public Affairs (an inside joke, of course). If you yield to the temptation to spread yourself across the media, you become a caricature and your story gets lost. I kept their emails to remind me.
I used the employee association attorney. A nice person, but pretty much useless as totally beholden to the agency, as were the grievance processing offices and all those other accronymed offices set up to help. In the end, I lost the battle, but at least I didn’t owe an attorney a million dollars. You will want to consider that carefully, because the system can stall you forever and never pay your legal fees. Also, they have a flock of dozens of attorneys already on the payroll and you only have one, whose bills you will have to pay.
Finally, my best advice came from my family clergy guy down in NC, my high school mathematics teacher, and former Navy colleagues. You need to seek advice from people outside the Washington bubble and especially outside the Department sphere.
Good luck in fighting the good fight. The people who oppose you are not honorable and will not behave in honorable ways. You must remember that always.
We can keep this channel open as long as you wish. And I won’t charge you one dime.
We have a lot in common: military veteran, lots of awards, lots of hardship tours.
None of it matters. I even took a Baghdad tour in 2007 when folks were boycotting Baghdad. State got totally corrupted under Clinton, but the corruption had been growing much longer. Young foreign service officers upon entry into the career path are immediately indoctrinated into a system of corruption. Seems only folks with a military (or serious corporate) background have the backbone to say no, this isn’t right. It’s why I decided early on to do my 20 and get out, except my 20 anniversary coincided with Benghazi, so I did one more year while it all got straightened out. More or less. Good luck with your situation. Keep your head down as much as possible. Keep in touch.
Does seems insane.
I recommend you do the following:
1) keep a daily journal (never too late to start);
2) keep hard copies of documents (emails can mysteriously disappear);
3) Keep copies of everything you’ve deposited with your lawyer.
Once you start paying out of pocket for a lawyer, there is no end. Court filings, legal briefs, etc., mount up over time. Quickly. I met a retiree who still owed her attorney hundreds of thousands of dollars (she used to say millions, but I think that was an exaggeration.
In the end, you may have to just bite the bullet, and in effect, let it go. Be prepared for such an outcome. Still, keep your journal and keep your records (in hard copy).
I agree that whistleblower “protection” is largely a joke. Just as the dissent channel is a joke. Just as the Secretary’s Sounding Board that I helped to create and develop in 2009 was/is a joke. Does it even still exist?
None of this is happy news, I know.
My greatest vindication was seeing Hillary Clinton lose in 2016. Now more stuff is coming to the fore, including the “intel” I was penalized for not reading that was all manufactured by Clinton cronies. More vindication. The Department will never apologize to me personally. It’s an apology I’ve decide to accept that will never be forthcoming. That’s life in the fast lane, I suppose.
Keep the faith.