Virginia Carlson, a Foreign Service family member, is being recognized for her hard work and creative initiative as she led myriad activities at post to enrich the experiences of youth in the U.S. embassy community and the host country.
Shortly after Ms. Carlson’s arrival in Kingston, Jamaica, in 2019, she realized that activities for teenagers were extremely limited. With three high school–aged children of her own at home, Ms. Carlson took it upon herself to organize community-wide events and programming designed for teens and their families.
She even personally hosted socially distanced events, with the help of the embassy’s community liaison office coordinator (CLO), when families returned from authorized departure.
“It was just so lovely to give kids a place to go and to see them interacting again after so much isolation during COVID,” she recounts.
To help newly arrived families integrate into the expatriate community in Kingston, she put together regular social events—from walking groups and luncheons to poolside barbecues.
The capstone event demonstrating Ms. Carlson’s commitment to the local community took place in 2022, when she seized on an opportunity to give back to Jamaicans. While completing an internship at the American International School for her master’s degree in education, Ms. Carlson noticed a disparity in the educational and recreational resources available across the island.
In the spirit of Jamaica’s national motto, “Out of Many, One People,” and the country’s popular saying, “One Love,” she decided to organize a book drive dubbed “Share the Love.” An avid reader who toted a large collection of books from post to post during her family’s many moves, Ms. Carlson grew up relishing the offerings at her local library. Deploying her strong planning skills yet again, she set out to collect books for every age and on every topic for distribution to schools and libraries.
“I did not want to limit the pool of donors to just the small diplomatic community,” she tells the Journal, “so I asked my Jamaican neighbors to spread the word. As a result, several older Jamaican ladies delivered their treasured book collections to my house, delighted to be able to pass on items that their own families no longer needed.”
Ms. Carlson estimates that the drive generated donations of hundreds of magazines and DVDs, and about 3,000 books, all of which had to be sorted and organized for distribution.
She designated 500 children’s books to go to the most remote and poorly resourced schools on the island, in partnership with the Peace Corps. Others went to the Jamaican Library Services, a high school, and a community in the mountains where the CLO and a locally employed staff member among the embassy guards had established a rapport. Books that did not meet school or library requirements were earmarked for an embassy book fair and other local causes.
Despite the heavy lifting required, Ms. Carlson feels thankful that she could bring her community together to promote children’s education and make a difference in the lives of the local population.
On receiving the Avis Bohlen Award, she says: “I am truly delighted, as I have never received an award like this before. In my time in the Foreign Service as an EFM, I have been incredibly proud to support our amazing members and FSOs. What a unique life experience we have had!”
Originally from the United Kingdom, Ms. Carlson had a successful career in information technology before moving to Portugal with her three children. It was there that she met her husband, who had just been accepted into the Foreign Service, and his two children.
Since then, Ms. Carlson has sought to build bridges between the Foreign Service community and locals overseas, always inventing ways to contribute to the host communities by organizing events and supporting CLO initiatives at every post.
Now a naturalized U.S. citizen, Ms. Carlson holds a master’s degree in international elementary education from George Mason University, and a certification for literacy instruction from the Orton-Gillingham Academy. She and her husband hope to retire to Ireland and create a home base there for their family of five children and several grandchildren.
During a season of particular hardship at Consulate General Shanghai, Denis Rajic applied his organizational and problem-solving skills to the community’s most critical challenges. His commitment to the well-being of staff and their families ensured that the mission ran efficiently despite the city’s unprecedented lockdown measures.
Mr. Rajic arrived at post in 2019; shortly thereafter, the country was overcome by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite being the only office management specialist at this 400-person mission for most of the rating period, he provided outstanding support to the busy front office and guaranteed the consul general and deputy principal officer were always fully prepared for the day’s engagements.
In response to the biggest surge in infections since the start of the pandemic, in April 2022, Shanghai authorities announced a four-day citywide lockdown. When days turned to weeks, essential supply chains collapsed, and food and medical supplies began to dwindle, the State Department evacuated all family members and nonemergency staff. As his wife and three children flew home—their second ordered departure from Shanghai—Mr. Rajic volunteered to stay behind.
Due to heavily restricted public services, mountains of trash accumulated at American embassy housing compounds and the main consulate building. Mr. Rajic negotiated with the foreign affairs office to convince the local neighborhood committee of the Communist Party to allow trash removal. When this request was denied, he tried again until he received approval. Mr. Rajic’s persistence directly contributed to the health and safety of this compound and community.
American citizens still in the region were soon clamoring to escape the city and what many described as “a dystopian nightmare.” However, the pouch containing dozens of passports had been held up at the airport, and the consular section sought a volunteer to retrieve them. With his characteristic alacrity, Mr. Rajic stepped up, donned full personal protective equipment, and talked his way through multiple checkpoints to successfully recover the documents.
The memory of the shortages imposed by the war in Bosnia had mentally and emotionally prepared me for many of the challenges that we faced under lockdown in Shanghai.
When colleagues trapped in their apartments began to run out of food, Mr. Rajic sprang into action. Coordinating with the network of vendors he had developed, he convinced an authorized food distributor to use its government permission to provide families with essential provisions.
As the crisis dragged on, locally employed (LE) staff reached out with increasingly desperate calls for assistance obtaining food, medicine, and baby supplies. Undeterred when Washington determined that no funding was available through the Foreign Service National Emergency Relief Fund, Mr. Rajic raised more than $30,000 from colleagues throughout Mission China to create nearly 300 care packages, supplying every local staff member and their families.
Consulate General leadership say that the logistical challenge of this feat cannot be overstated; Mr. Rajic’s hours of phone calls and countless entreaties to local government officials resulted in middle-of-the-night pickups and the delivery of truckloads of essential supplies.
It was clear from the many emotional responses to the care packages that, at their moment of greatest need, local staff knew the mission was looking out for them. Like so much else at post in Shanghai, it would not have happened without Mr. Rajic’s initiative, determination, and genuine care for his community.
Mr. Rajic believes his childhood wartime experiences in Banja Luka informed his ability to confront the demands of the pandemic. “The memory of the shortages imposed by the war in Bosnia had mentally and emotionally prepared me for many of the challenges that we faced under lockdown,” he tells the Journal.
He says he is honored to have been a part of a dedicated group of colleagues: “I view this award as not only an individual recognition, but a team Shanghai recognition. Together we were able to maintain a strong level of morale and cohesion while alleviating some of the discomfort our community faced.”
Born in Bosnia, Denis Rajic came to the United States in 1995 toward the end of the Bosnia War. His first exposure to the State Department came during his visa interview at the U.S. embassy in Zagreb, which sparked his determination to one day join the diplomatic corps.
Prior to entering the Foreign Service in 2009, he worked as operations manager for a trade show company and as executive assistant in a government community relations firm. He holds a B.S. in anthropology, and a B.A. as well as an M.A. in international relations. He has served in Taiwan, Syria, Indonesia, Korea, Afghanistan, and China.
In 2021, he received the State Department’s Office Management Specialist of the Year Award for his help sending urgently needed medical supplies from China to the U.S. in 2020.
Office Management Specialist (OMS) Judit Kaczor demonstrated exceptional dedication and unwavering support for the U.S. mission in Colombo, Sri Lanka, during staffing challenges, economic and political turmoil, food and fuel shortages, and violent protests.
Due to a staff shortage, she was pulled from her section to assist the front office, where she remained for two and a half years. Her attention to detail and ability to anticipate front office needs quickly made her invaluable to both the executive team and the mission.
Among her many achievements, colleagues highlighted Ms. Kaczor’s initiative in updating the executive handbook to help new officers learn reporting expectations; initiating a new missionwide procedure for processing Diplomatic Notes to facilitate tracking and archiving; training and mentoring other office management staff; and proactively preparing for the incoming ambassador while maintaining support for the chargé d’affaires and acting deputy chief of mission.
Despite her busy schedule, Ms. Kaczor also served on the embassy’s Green Team to help the community meet the State Department’s goal of combating climate change and volunteered to become a Disability Action Group representative at post.
When the request for volunteers to support Operation Allies Rescue went out in August 2021, Ms. Kaczor traveled without hesitation to Doha to assist with the largest noncombatant evacuation in history. She worked night shifts to manifest new batches of arriving evacuees, addressing medical emergencies and family separations. The work was grueling, but Ms. Kaczor rose to the occasion and kept morale high.
With her anticipatory actions and relentless drive to contribute to mission goals, Ms. Kaczor stands out as a model of administrative support in the field.
The OMS corps is often overlooked, but we provide a solid foundation to any office. This award is proof that everyone has an important part to play!
She counts the recognition from AFSA as both a personal and a professional achievement: “The OMS corps is often overlooked, but we provide a solid foundation to any office. This award is proof that everyone has an important part to play!”
Judit Kaczor joined the State Department in 2016. Originally from Hungary, she currently serves as OMS to the deputy chief of mission in Belgrade. In addition to Colombo, her previous assignments include Vienna and Islamabad.
Before joining the Department of State, Ms. Kaczor gained experience working in U.S. missions as an eligible family member in positions such as new embassy compound move coordinator, security escort, administrative and protocol assistant, classified pouch coordinator, and consular fraud investigative assistant.
During the rapid closure of Embassy Kabul and in the aftermath of evacuation from Afghanistan, Christine “Christie” Peterson provided tireless support to staff as community liaison office coordinator (CLO). She advocated for the families of U.S. government personnel and locally employed (LE) staff alike, ensuring their welfare and boosting morale at every opportunity.
In April 2021, President Joe Biden set a September deadline for the U.S. military withdrawal. The Department of Defense (DoD) decision to accelerate this process left embassy staff with only 10 weeks to prepare.
In this context, Ms. Peterson sought to ease the uncertainty and anxiety affecting staff. With pandemic restrictions in place, she developed remote CLO programs until most community members were vaccinated. She then organized morale-enhancing activities to combat stress amid exhausting contingency preparations and April’s ordered departure (OD).
Ms. Peterson tells the Journal, “Being a CLO in a hardship post like Kabul isn’t like being a CLO elsewhere. When you throw in the extra difficulty of a pandemic, the stresses and challenges of living on a small compound in a warzone come into sharp focus.”
She estimates that she and her co-CLO coordinator worked 65 to 80 hours a week each in their efforts to serve multiple agencies, contractors, and LE staff. When her co-CLO departed on OD in April, her hours only increased.
On Aug. 14, the Emergency Action Committee decided to evacuate all diplomatic staff; except for a team at the airport, all U.S. direct hires left Afghanistan on Aug. 15.
As the only Kabul employee on the ground at the State Department in Washington, D.C., when the evacuation began, Ms. Peterson took up the role of local staff communications lead on the Afghanistan Coordination Task Force Logistics Team. Working Kabul hours from her hotel room, she brought her in-depth knowledge of the mission to bear while also manifesting local staff for flights out of the city.
Ms. Peterson’s impact was perhaps most felt by Afghan staff, with whom she shared a deep bond. Throughout the evacuation, and as they faced harrowing days hiding in their homes or waiting at the mobbed airport, Ms. Peterson kept in contact with them. She regularly updated the regional security officer and DoD, including status reports when a busload of LE staff attempting to pass through a checkpoint to the airport was held at gunpoint by Taliban members. Her real-time information flow to the proper contacts at the airport headquarters helped gain the passengers’ release and eventual travel to the U.S.
Working nonstop during what were often 20-hour days, she responded to hundreds of sensitive emails, WhatsApp messages, and texts with local staff, sharing vital information with security contacts.
She recalls, “Time was limited and we were all afraid to sleep for fear of missing messages and not being available to our staff when they needed us. Continuing to facilitate communication and control rumors was vital to helping the community remain calm.”
Critically, her networks provided updates and key information during the Aug. 26 suicide attack at the airport, ensuring mission personnel accountability and LE staff safety.
She also maintained her position as CLO coordinator—linking management, Afghan staff, and those on ordered departure, as well as advocating for and helping to organize GCLO-hosted town halls. She supported embassy staff working feverishly in both Doha and Kabul, sending essential supplies to the RSO team members in Kabul who had been forced to abandon their bags on the embassy helipad.
As evacuated staff arrived in Washington, D.C., Ms. Peterson used her evenings and even the early hours of the morning to coordinate and volunteer at welcome tables at Dulles International Airport, distributing information, SIM cards, and much-needed encouragement for exhausted travelers.
Continuing to serve with domestic support for arriving Afghan colleagues, Ms. Peterson traveled to Dulles Expo Center and Fort Lee in Virginia, Fort Dix in New Jersey, Fort Bliss in Texas, and Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico with information, supplies, and a caring ear for Mission Afghanistan’s evacuated LE staff awaiting processing. She never stopped advocating for the Afghan community, including for prenatal care for pregnant women in the evacuee camps.
Ms. Peterson’s dedication helped ease a fraught evacuation process and entry to the United States. Working across time zones and on a variety of issues, with minimal guidance as her own leadership evacuated, she excelled in providing care to the entire community, everywhere. Her extraordinary level of service in challenging times directly affected thousands of lives.
In reflecting on this award, Ms. Peterson says she is honored to have been selected: “I know that many CLOs around the world performed extraordinary service this past year. I can only say thank you to AFSA for providing the opportunity for CLOs to show the dedication and love we feel for our embassy and mission communities.”
Hailing from Arizona, Christie Peterson is currently based in Canberra, Australia, where she serves as co-CLO coordinator. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Northern Arizona University, where she met and married her husband, now a Foreign Service officer. The couple and their two daughters have previously been posted to Dakar, Prague, and Washington, D.C. Between the State Department and service with the U.S. Air Force, they have moved 24 times in the past 25 years.
In support of Belarussian civil society groups and opposition forces, RaeJean Stokes’ exceptional leadership and creative diplomatic engagement significantly contributed to strengthening the country’s fledgling democracy and combating authoritarianism under the Aleksandr Lukashenko regime.
While serving as Belarus desk officer from 2020 to 2022, Ms. Stokes drove U.S. support for opposition leadership and democratic institutions, worked with colleagues to leverage public diplomacy tools, and provided a strong and clear response in the face of egregious human rights violations.
When Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was pushed out of Belarus after most likely defeating 27-year-incumbent Lukashenko, she became a champion for pro-democracy forces; Ms. Stokes recognized that a Washington visit for the emerging leader would show U.S. support for the pro-democracy movement and send a strong signal to the Lukashenko regime that the U.S. would not work with him.
Ms. Stokes gained interagency buy-in for high-level meetings for Tsikhanouskaya in 2021, including with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. She also secured a meeting with President Joe Biden—the first presidential meeting with a Belarusian leader since 1994.
These meetings helped give Tsikhanouskaya the boost of confidence she needed to continue leading democratic opposition forces while her husband, and many of her colleagues and supporters, remained in jail in Minsk.
Ms. Stokes says the gesture was a vital one: “When I saw how much our principled support meant to the brave members of Belarus’ democratic forces, particularly after Tsikhanouskaya’s historic visit to the White House, I was—and remain—inspired. The path to democracy can be difficult, and I am honored I was able to play a small part in Belarus’ journey.”
When the Lukashenko regime’s unwillingness to participate in diplomatic dialogue with the U.S. Embassy in Minsk challenged American engagement in support of democratic institutions, Ms. Stokes identified public diplomacy—and public statements from the State Department, in particular—as a viable tool to send crucial messages to Minsk.
When I saw how much our principled support meant to the brave members of Belarus’ democratic forces, particularly after Tsikhanouskaya’s historic visit to the White House, I was—and remain—inspired.
Working closely with colleagues in the Press Office and across the interagency, Ms. Stokes helped craft public messages that highlighted America’s commitment to human rights.
For example, in 2020, when the Lukashenko regime imprisoned the Belarus-born spouse of a U.S. diplomat serving as an independent journalist, on baseless charges, Ms. Stokes worked with the Office of Hostage Affairs and Consular Affairs to secure his release.
Through discreet diplomacy, culminating in a call from Secretary Mike Pompeo to Lukashenko himself, Ms. Stokes played a pivotal role in convincing the regime to release the journalist from jail. Her carefully drafted messaging, analysis of the regime’s tactics and motivations, and persistence in the face of challenges made this outcome possible.
When Tsikhanouskaya returned to Washington in the spring of 2022, Ms. Stokes again galvanized interagency support for high-level meetings to demonstrate continued U.S. government commitment to Belarusian democratic opposition, which now operates from Vilnius, Lithuania.
While the Deputy Secretary agreed to meet Tsikhanouskaya during her second visit, a meeting with the Secretary of State initially seemed out of reach due to scheduling conflicts. Ms. Stokes delivered a different outcome.
Recognizing how critical a photo and pull-aside with the Secretary could be to encourage the opposition and those protesting Lukashenko’s human rights abuses, she worked with the Deputy Secretary’s staff and the line to arrange a brief meeting between Tsikhanouskaya and the Secretary.
Thanks to Ms. Stokes’ diplomatic savvy, contagious optimism, and force of will, the opposition—and Belarus’ fledgling democratic institutions—are stronger than they were two years ago.
RaeJean Stokes currently serves as special assistant in the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Since joining the Foreign Service in 2012, she has also served in Mexico City, Kyiv, and Ankara.
Prior to the Foreign Service, she facilitated State Department–funded exchange programs at American Councils for International Education in Washington, D.C., worked as a development assistance coordinator at U.S. Embassy Yerevan as an eligible family member (EFM), and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine. She also worked as a journalist for SmarterTravel.com and several local newspapers.
Ms. Stokes holds a master’s degree in international development from the University of Denver and has a bachelor’s degree in English and history from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.
A native of East Granby, Connecticut, she is married to fellow FSO Nick Stokes.
In the fall of 2021, employees at U.S. Embassy Kingston grew increasingly alarmed as they awaited news on the deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine booster. The State Department had not shared information on when staff at post could expect to receive it, and as Kingston had been the last post in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs to receive the initial vaccine, many employees feared the lack of transparency on boosters portended another lengthy wait.
Jeff Osweiler, the embassy’s nonimmigrant visa chief and AFSA post representative, saw an opportunity to advocate for his colleagues during a period of stress and ambiguity.
“Significant and successive delays in the distribution of COVID vaccines and boosters to the field had become a widespread concern in the community,” he recounts, “not least because host-country vaccination rates and access to appropriate care were very low.”
“Despite the successful (and desperately needed) delivery of tens of thousands of vaccine doses to the host government, access to these protective measures for post personnel lagged months behind their widespread distribution in the United States. I knew we could do better.”
Mr. Osweiler actively yet respectfully engaged with mission management to determine the status of booster shots, prompting leadership to obtain more precise information from the Bureau of Medical Services (MED). These updates were shared in real time with post employees to alleviate uncertainty.
Thanks to his tenacity in chasing answers and sensitivity to the needs of his colleagues, boosters arrived in Kingston in December 2021 for immediate disbursal.
“AFSA was an extremely supportive partner as we articulated our concerns to post management and MED,” Mr. Osweiler says. “I believe concerted action by both post and MED on vaccine procurement and delivery occurred as a direct result of our efforts to bring member concerns forward. This has improved communication with post personnel on subsequent rounds of distribution and, hopefully, given a template for improving the timeline as new boosters are made available.”
Kingston is the third overseas post at which Mr. Osweiler has volunteered and been selected to serve as an AFSA post representative, a role he believes is crucial to connecting members with the guidance and resources they need.
I learned early in my career how important AFSA is as an agent of advocacy, change, and equitable treatment. I have deeply appreciated the role of the association in ensuring that the Foreign Service takes care of those who bring it to life.
“I learned early in my career how important AFSA is as an agent of advocacy, change, and equitable treatment,” he says. “I have deeply appreciated the role of the association in ensuring that the Foreign Service takes care of those who bring it to life.”
Jeff Osweiler currently serves as the nonimmigrant visa chief at U.S. Embassy Kingston, one of the largest nonimmigrant visa operations in the world. He began his Foreign Service career more than 10 years ago as vice consul in Abuja. He has since served in consular manager and reporting roles in Rabat, Antananarivo, Tunis, and Montreal.
Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Mr. Osweiler was a program officer at McGill University and an editor at a national, bilingual trade magazine for Universities Canada, Canada’s higher education lobby.
He completed his bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Iowa and holds a master’s degree in comparative politics and international relations from McGill University. He hails from Ames, Iowa, where he is the proud owner of the only parade float bearing the AFSA logo.
“Every home leave, my family and I enter a French Citroen 2CV that I brought back from Madagascar as an AFSA float in my hometown’s Fourth of July parade,” Mr. Osweiler tells the Journal. “We hand out the branded bumper stickers, lanyards, and bags that AFSA sends us. Next summer will be our third instance of this outreach. Rest assured that the town of Ames knows and appreciates AFSA’s work, too!”
In 2009, Susan R. Johnson made AFSA history as the first woman elected president of the association. Under her leadership, spanning two terms of two years each, she tirelessly spoke out against threats to the Foreign Service as a profession and worked to modernize AFSA as an organization.
Through public speeches, regular columns in The Foreign Service Journal, and op-eds for other media outlets, Ms. Johnson called for strengthening the professionalism of America’s diplomatic service and documented the steady decline in Foreign Service assignments to senior policymaking positions in the State Department over decades.
She took on the hard issues, including the need to boost appropriations, advance diversity, improve Civil Service and Foreign Service relations, promote institutional reform of the assignment and promotion system, challenge the growing number of political appointees in the department and as ambassadors, and balance overseas security with the needs of diplomacy to manage risk effectively, among other issues.
Honoring Foreign Service members who made the ultimate sacrifice, Ms. Johnson led with sincerity. In April 2013, she traveled to Chicago to attend the funeral of FSO Anne Smedinghoff, who was killed during a car bombing in Kabul, and ensured that Ms. Smedinghoff’s story was included in the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training’s exhibit, “History of U.S. Diplomacy,” housed at the Foreign Service Institute.
One month later, Ms. Johnson presided over the only AFSA Memorial Plaque ceremony to be attended by a vice president of the United States. At that event, then–Vice President Joe Biden added the names of Ms. Smedinghoff and seven other Foreign Service members killed in the line of duty to the memorial wall.
Ms. Johnson was committed to building recognition for the professional history of the Foreign Service and AFSA. She commissioned a book on the history of AFSA (Voice of the Foreign Service by Harry Kopp, FS Books, 2015) and encouraged research into U.S. diplomats missing from the AFSA Memorial Plaque.
She worked to improve conditions for FS members, including successful advocacy for the first two tranches of overseas comparability pay (OCP). Under her leadership, and thanks to the hard work of AFSA’s labor management team, AFSA also won back pay and retroactive bonuses for dozens of Diplomatic Security agents who had been denied them.
In an initiative dear to the hearts of many in the Foreign Service, Ms. Johnson advocated for greater State Department support for members with animal companions as part of their family. She launched a successful AFSA member email campaign calling on United Airlines to include FS members in the policies it offered those traveling on military orders. And in 2010, with a Civil Service colleague, she created the Facebook group “Foreign Affairs Friends of Animals Network”, which now has more than 2,000 members.
To modernize AFSA as an organization, Ms. Johnson sharpened the roles of AFSA committees and established an ad hoc committee on professionalism and ethics in the Foreign Service.
Ms. Johnson visited foreign affairs retiree groups around the country and advocated for them as a vital AFSA constituency. She assembled 15 former AFSA presidents as a brain trust to provide insights and institutional memory to the association, and always lent AFSA’s support—as well as her own—to sister organizations, including the Diplomacy Center Foundation for the National Museum of American Diplomacy and the American Academy of Diplomacy’s 2011 report on diplomatic professional education and training.
Susan R. Johnson retired from the Senior Foreign Service in 2015 after a 35-year career and currently serves as president of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. Prior to holding the AFSA presidency, she served in Bosnia as deputy high representative and supervisor of Brcko district, in Baghdad as senior adviser to the Iraqi foreign ministry, and in Romania and Mauritius as deputy chief of mission and chargé d’affaires.
Earlier postings include Moscow, Havana, Islamabad, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York, and the National Endowment for Democracy. She also served as International Executive Service Corps country director for Central Asia based in Kazakhstan.
She is the recipient of several Superior and Meritorious Honor Awards and the 2001 Deputy Chief of Mission of the Year Award, and is a former Pearson Fellow and an alumna of the Senior Seminar. Before entering the Foreign Service, she worked in the private sector.
Ms. Johnson holds a B.A. in history from Principia College and an M.A. in international relations from the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies. She is married to Ambassador Riaz M. Khan, a retired Pakistani diplomat and former foreign secretary of Pakistan. She has served on the boards of numerous organizations, including the Diplomacy Center Foundation and DACOR.
Over the course of her three decades of service as AFSA general counsel, Sharon L. Papp has made innumerable contributions to AFSA, its constituencies, and the whole of the Foreign Service community.
Ms. Papp and her team in the AFSA Labor Management Office assist more than 1,000 members per year from all of the foreign affairs agencies with grievances, investigations, proposals for disciplinary action, appeals of the revocation of their security clearance, and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints.
Since joining AFSA in 1992, Ms. Papp has personally assisted thousands of members, often taking on the most difficult cases. She ensures that agencies abide by the rules and that members receive due process and fair treatment. In doing so, she has saved numerous careers and ensured the integrity of the Foreign Service as an institution.
In a significant 2020 victory, Ms. Papp assisted a dozen members who were charged with security violations after the State Department retroactively classified emails sent from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private server. With Ms. Papp’s help, they were found not liable.
More recently, a legal brief authored by Ms. Papp and Deputy General Counsel Raeka Safai resulted in a ruling by the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board granting retroactive 2015 and 2016 Meritorious Service Increases (MSI). This was a particularly notable victory that followed an earlier loss on the issue before the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB). Under Ms. Papp’s leadership, AFSA also prevailed in the 2013 MSI dispute. As a result of AFSA’s efforts in these disputes, more than 1,000 Foreign Service employees received a permanent increase to their salaries or annuities if retired.
Ms. Papp’s 30 years of experience with discipline cases gives her clients a distinct advantage. For example, punishments are supposed to be consistent with those previously imposed on other employees. Since she is well versed in the history of similar cases, she has often succeeded in getting a client’s penalty reduced from what an agency initially proposed to a fairer penalty.
Ms. Papp also authored two amicus briefs that helped achieve significant victories for Foreign Service members and established positive precedent. In one case, the court ruled that the Secretary of State could not overrule a decision of the FSGB finding that the department had not established cause to separate a Foreign Service employee. In a second case, the court ruled that a consul general was acting within the scope of his employment when he was involved in a car accident overseas and therefore could not be sued individually in the United States by someone injured in the accident.
During her tenure, Ms. Papp has advised 15 different AFSA governing boards on policy issues. Her nuanced approach to explaining complex legal issues has assisted those boards in responding to threats to the Foreign Service.
During the 1990s, Ms. Papp worked to end discrimination in the foreign affairs agencies based on sexual orientation by providing legal support to lesbian and gay members on a variety of issues. In recognition of her work, she was awarded the 2014 Equality Award by Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (known as glifaa) at a ceremony where Secretary of State John Kerry also lauded her.
Few things make me prouder than seeing the name of an employee I helped out of a potentially career-ending situation on a tenure or promotion list, or getting a decision from the FSGB ruling in AFSA’s favor when an agency violated an agreement.
–Sharon L. Papp
In a 1999 case that the entire AFSA membership followed closely, Ms. Papp secured a ruling from the FSGB that the State Department had violated a collective bargaining agreement with AFSA in appointing a Civil Service employee as a deputy chief of mission, compelling Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to curtail the assignment.
Finally, in 2019 under highly politicized circumstances, Ms. Papp worked with one of the department’s ethics lawyers to ensure that 12 AFSA members called to testify in the impeachment of President Donald Trump could have their attorneys’ fees reimbursed without running afoul of the ethics rules prohibiting acceptance of gifts. She advised AFSA’s Legal Defense Fund Committee as it paid more than $450,000 in non-reimbursable attorney fees to save FS colleagues from the severe financial hardship they would have suffered had they been forced to pay out of pocket for their own representation.
Ms. Papp says she has always been an ardent believer in due process and justice, and she finds fulfillment in working to ensure these rights for Foreign Service members: “Few things make me prouder than seeing the name of an employee I helped out of a potentially career-ending situation on a tenure or promotion list, or getting a decision from the FSGB ruling in AFSA’s favor when an agency violated an agreement. Not all lawyers can say they love what they do; I am very fortunate to be one of those who can!”
Sharon L. Papp joined AFSA in 1992, after five years as an associate attorney with a Washington, D.C., law firm specializing in plaintiff-side employment and EEO law.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and psychology from Vanderbilt University and a Juris Doctor from The George Washington University Law School. She is a member of the District of Columbia and Virginia Bars and the recipient of the Gay and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies’ Equity Award and the Society of Federal Labor and Employee Relations Professionals’ Lifetime Achievement award.
Ms. Papp grew up in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, where her parents worked for the Arabian American Oil Company for 18 years. She is married to Rick Philbin and has two grown daughters, Andrea and Nicole Philbin.
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