New Ideas from AFSA

President's Views


In my past three columns, I have described AFSA’s relations with our main partners: Civil Service colleagues, Congress and State Department management. This month I would like to describe AFSA’s strategic plan, adopted by the Governing Board in November.

This two-year plan focuses on five areas: good internal governance, member benefits, Foreign Service career development, overseas security and Foreign Service image promotion. Within these five areas, we have prioritized 29 projects.

This is an ambitious agenda. But with AFSA now grown to a record 16,200 members, and with 10 standing committees, a 29-member board and 34-member professional staff, we believe it is time to think big. Here are three of the projects we are undertaking.

First, a working group of 10 retired chiefs of mission, comprised of both career diplomats and political appointees from three administrations, is drafting a set of “Guidelines for a Successful Chief of Mission.” They are drawing on the criteria for ambassadors contained in the Foreign Service Act of 1980 and other sources, as well as their personal experiences.

In December the AFSA Governing Board and other groups will review the Guidelines document. After its adoption, AFSA and these like-minded organizations will hold a series of media and congressional events to present it. We believe these guidelines will prove to be a useful resource for the executive and legislative branches in the nomination and confirmation processes for chiefs of mission.

Second, to provide input for the 2014 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, AFSA has formed six working groups, each composed of a mix of active-duty and retired members, to look at reforms in six discrete areas. We are calling this our “Six Easy Pieces,” which we will present to the leadership of the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, and to the broader membership, in January.

One of these groups is looking at security and at the task of striking the right balance between risk mitigation and engagement with local publics, which is so vital to being able to carry out our work overseas. Stay tuned for further information on these groups.

Our third initiative involves the yearlong celebration in 2014 of the 90th anniversary of both the modern Foreign Service and AFSA. We are planning many great events to celebrate that milestone, beginning with a kickoff cocktail reception in January. There will also be a May 22 gala dinner hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry, a series of talks on the Middle East and Europe, a policy conference in October open to all AFSA members, book launches, and much more.

There are many other initiatives in AFSA’s two-year strategic plan. We are working to have Foreign Service travelers included in the “Global Entry” program at U.S. airports; develop a leave bank along the lines of the “credit union” model to help manage our leave; and formulate after-hours guidelines for employee BlackBerry accessibility. And to model good governance and institute a performance management culture, AFSA’s elected officers are leading by example, calling for 360-degree reviews of themselves by staff.

You’ll find the entire plan at; under the “About AFSA” tab, go to “Governing Board” category.

And now, as promised, here are the answers to last month’s Foreign Service quiz.

  • George Kennan wrote the Long Telegram, proposing the Containment Doctrine that prevailed in the Cold War, while serving as an editor of The Foreign Service Journal.
  • The ratio in today’s Foreign Service between generalists and specialists is roughly 60/40.
  • The early American republic gave chiefs of mission the title of minister plenipotentiary rather than ambassador.
  • The father of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., was AFSA President Charles Whitehouse.

Congratulations to Craig Olson of Arlington, Va., and Ethan Goldrich of Embassy Minsk for answering all four questions correctly. Your AFSA coffee mugs are in the mail!

I wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season. Be well, stay safe and keep in touch.


Robert J. Silverman is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.