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F
OCUS ON
D
I SSENT
W
HAT
I
F
I D
ISAGREE
?
18
F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / J U LY - A U G U S T 2 0 1 1
poradically, the media become
enthused by a “whistleblower” or an act of “telling truth to
power.” Usually such interest is ex post facto. For exam-
ple, a career employee of the Securities and Exchange
Commission warned of Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme
years before it collapsed in 2009 — in time to save in-
vestors billions of dollars. But
he was ignored until the dam-
age became public. The lesson
is that to be effective within
bureaucracies, dissent must be
institutionalized.
In the U.S. federal govern-
ment (and probably in the
world) such institutionalization
exists in only one place — the
U.S. Department of State. For
more than 40 years, whistle-
blowers and those prepared to speak truth to power have
been protected and respected there. Such support exists
equally within the formal bureaucratic system and within
the informal — some would say more powerful — system
in which professional reputation is paramount.
In the State Department itself, the combination of tur-
moil over the VietnamWar and the advent of white-collar
unions in the early 1970s led to the establishment of an of-
ficial mechanism for disagreement called the “Dissent
Channel.” Procedures were promulgated in the Foreign
Affairs Manual, State’s regulatory compendium, enabling
any Foreign Service employee to write a dissent message
addressed to the Secretary of State and sent through the
O
UR NATION HAS BENEFITED GREATLY FROM THE
INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF DISSENT IN THE CULTURE
OF THE
F
OREIGN
S
ERVICE
.
B
Y
T
HOMAS
D. B
OYATT
Thomas D. Boyatt, an FSO from 1959 until 1985, served
as ambassador to Colombia and to Upper Volta (now
Burkino Faso) and chargé d’affaires in Chile, among many
other postings. Currently the treasurer of AFSA’s political
action committee, AFSA-PAC, he has in the past been
AFSA’s president, vice president and treasurer, as well as
serving as a retiree representative on the Governing Board.
He is currently president of the Foreign Affairs Coun-
cil, chairs the Academy of American Diplomacy’s “Foreign
Affairs Budget for the Future” project, and continues to
lecture, teach and consult. Ambassador Boyatt received
AFSA awards for dissent two times: the William R. Rivkin
Award in 1970 while serving in Nicosia, and the Christian
A. Herter Award in 1977 while serving as country director
for Cyprus. In 2008, he received the Lifetime Contribu-
tions to American Diplomacy Award from AFSA.
This article is excerpted from
Inside a U.S. Embassy:
Diplomacy at Work
(FSBooks/AFSA, 2011).
Ambassador Boyatt testi-
fies on Capitol Hill in
2007.