BY ERIC RUBIN
As the dramatic year of 2019 draws to a close, I want to update AFSA’s members on what our professional association and union has done and what we are doing to support and defend our members and our Foreign Service.
We have all witnessed the courage and patriotism of our colleagues who were subpoenaed to testify before the House of Representatives in the impeachment hearings. None of us, least of all those who were required to testify, welcomed this challenge. We are nonpartisan, nonpolitical public servants who carry out our work and uphold our oath to the Constitution. But when the time came, U.S. diplomats made us proud. Our fellow Americans saw the best of our Service and the best of our nation.
We at AFSA have been working hard to defend and support our colleagues who have been caught up in this battle. We successfully negotiated with State Department management to ensure that there will be no retaliation against those who complied with congressional subpoenas. We secured permission for our members to accept pro bono representation, which otherwise would have been prohibited.
Another positive development was that State agreed to support travel orders, per diem and official time for those who were subpoenaed from overseas. And State also agreed to provide some funding to defray legal costs for those testifying.
In addition, we confirmed that the Legal Defense Fund can accept money from outside donors to pay the attorney fees of FS members.
AFSA’s Legal Defense Fund has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to contribute to legal costs for our members who have been called to testify. We are optimistic that none of our members who have had to testify will need to pay out of pocket for the enormous costs of legal defense.
And we have used this unwelcome crisis as an opportunity to focus attention on the work of the women and men of the Foreign Service at a time when some of our most basic assumptions have come under question.
We are the U.S. Foreign Service. We serve our country and advance its interests across the globe. We loyally carry out the policy of the elected leaders of our country, in good times and in bad. We and our family members pick ourselves up and move to every corner of the globe, to places that sometimes are scary and unhealthy and unsafe.
At this very challenging time for our country and our Service, we must continue to carry out our mission and stay true to the oath that we all took to the Constitution. America needs experienced, qualified diplomats to defend its interests. There is no substitute for the years of knowledge, experience, language expertise and dedication that we, the members of the U.S. Foreign Service, bring to the table.
What do we ask? That our patriotism, sacrifice and dedication be recognized and respected. That our commitment to nonpartisan, nonpolitical service be taken for what it is: a solemn oath to duty, honor and country.
As we move into the new year, AFSA will continue to support our members and our Service. We will continue our efforts to defend individual members who may be called to testify in impeachment proceedings.
At the same time, we will work to advance our larger interests: full congressional funding for international engagement and foreign assistance. And we will address critical issues affecting Foreign Service members of all ranks, from policies supporting families with special needs children to efforts to ensure that tandem couples are able to serve together overseas. We will address the concerns of specialists.
We will continue to advocate with management and on the Hill for adequate staffing at our overseas missions. We will work hard to ensure that Foreign Service members have the opportunity to serve overseas to advance our national interest, as well as develop their careers.
We will push for additional focus on diversity, and the need to ensure that our Foreign Service truly represents America.
We want to hear from you. Please let us know how we can better represent you in these difficult times.