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MAY 2015


s I write in early April, the AFSA

award nominations have come

in, and I am so pleased that we

have another record number

of nominations. I hope many of you will

attend the awards ceremony on June 9 at

the State Department to recognize our col-

leagues’ principled dissent and outstand-

ing performance.

I am in the last months of a two-year

tour as AFSA president, realizing that there

is muchmore work ahead to promote and

defend the Foreign Service, but pleased

that there are great candidates ready to

serve as AFSA president and carry on with

the fine teamhere at AFSA.

One strategic goal of this Governing

Board has been to strive to ensure that the

next generation of the Foreign Service is

afforded the same career opportunities

that we enjoyed. Those opportunities are

not assured. Here are two of the steps we

took toward that goal.

First, we established criteria with

the State Department for taking Foreign

Service positions out of the bidding pool

for a cycle and granting them as devel-

opmental assignments to Civil Service

employees. Based on past practice and our

reading of the rules, we asserted that the

department needed AFSA approval of such

actions. When the department denied this

assertion, we filed

a grievance citing

the case of the

Embassy London

IranWatcher posi-


The depart-

ment initially put the London position in

the Overseas Development Program for

civil servants, a new program created by

the 2010 QDDR. When this AFSA Board

came in, the department wanted to double

the program from 20 to 40 Foreign Service

positions, but we pushed back out of

concern for the lack of adequate overseas

positions at the mid-levels of the Service.

Eventually we settled the grievance on

favorable terms—the London position was

returned to the Foreign Service bidding

pool for this cycle, and we are finalizing

procedures with the department for this

program going forward.

Given the current deficit of mid-level

overseas positions, we should reconsider

putting any positions into the program.

We want to support the careers of our Civil

Service colleagues, but we need to ensure

that there are a sufficient number of posi-

tions for the Foreign Service in the system

now and in the future.

Second, we pushed back against one

aspect of the increasing politicization of

the department’s senior positions. As I

noted in last month’s column, “How to Find the Next Bill Burns,” we need to ke


policy jobs in the career ranks as incuba-

tors for our future leaders.

One area where the Foreign Service is

being severely challenged is the increasing

transfer of the most important embas-

sies (in terms of U.S. policy) to political

appointees, who are usually not campaign

bundlers but rather National Security

Council staffmembers.

A partial list of such posts (with exam-

ples of career FSOs who previously served

as ambassadors there and rose to the top

of the Service) would include: USNATO

(Toria Nuland, Nick Burns), Russia (Bill

Burns, TomPickering), Israel (Dan Kurtzer,

TomPickering), South Korea (Kathy Ste-

phens, Chris Hill), South Africa (Princeton

Lyman), Argentina (Tony Wayne) and

India (Nancy Powell, Frank Wisner).

This is a different problem than sending

bundlers to pleasant postings inWestern

Europe, and should be easier to reform.

How can we effectively advocate for

the nomination of career FSOs rather than

NSC staffers (in addition to appealing to

good stewardship of the career ranks)?

Many NSC policy experts possess knowl-

edge of the languages, cultures and institu-

tions, which are illustrative qualifications

for ambassadors noted in the Foreign

Service Act of 1980.

AFSA’s Guidelines for Successful Performance of Chiefs of Mission pr


an answer. It fleshes out what the Foreign

Service Act means when it calls for all

nominees to possess “clearly demon-

strated competence.”The guidelines state

a nominee must have the “capacity to lead

the operations of a diplomatic mission

effectively.”This is an area where FSOs

are better qualified than NSC experts. The

latter often have little or no leadership

experience in overseas settings.

So, this AFSA Board has provided a

couple of new tools to our successors to

continue the ongoing advocacy work.

Be well, stay safe and keep in touch,




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

Two Steps in Support of Career Development