BY ERIC RUBIN
As the current AFSA Governing Board’s term comes to an end, I think it is fair to say that despite very unusual circumstances we accomplished a great deal, both in terms of achieving positive change that benefits our members and protecting the Foreign Service and our members from threats and hostile challenges.
Our biggest successes in the difficult environment of the Trump administration were protective: We supported members who had to testify or give depositions in the first impeachment process against President Trump; lobbied and negotiated to get the rules changed so we could raise money to support their legal defense; and then raised about $750,000 in direct donations (thanks to the generosity of our members and others) so that no AFSA member was out of pocket a single penny for legal expenses related to impeachment. We also publicly defended our members’ courage in stating the truth under oath and defying instructions not to cooperate with legal subpoenas from Congress.
Then came COVID-19. Much of the final year of our board term was devoted to pushing for information and transparency on vaccinations, health resources, authorized and ordered departure, and equity in the vaccine rollout process. We finished the term with every AFSA member, as well as every American family member and Foreign Service National employee overseas, having had access to one of the approved vaccines.
We did not just play defense, however. We worked intensively with members of Congress and their staffs to make certain that our foreign affairs and foreign assistance accounts were adequately funded, despite the previous administration’s attempts every year to gut them.
After the November 2020 elections, we reached out to build relationships with the new committee chairs in the House and Senate, and with the congressional leadership, to advocate for needed changes to our foundational legislation and for urgent action on diversity, equality of benefits and protection from harm.
We worked rapidly to establish close ties to the new Biden administration after the inauguration, promoting AFSA’s priority goals and objectives and seeking to be a partner in efforts to make progress on diversity and inclusion, professional education and training, and reform of parts of our Foreign Service career path. We began the campaign to press for a significant expansion of the Foreign Service in all agencies, a goal that may be within reach.
Despite the shutdown of our offices for nearly a year and a half, we maintained member services and outreach at their pre-pandemic levels, and leveraged the new technologies of telework and virtual public platforms to ensure that we kept members engaged and informed.
AFSA also broadened its ties with the employee affinity and resource groups at State and USAID, as well as with important outside organizations such as the American Academy of Diplomacy, the Council of American Ambassadors, the Association of Black American Ambassadors, the USAID Alumni Association, DACOR, the National Museum of American Diplomacy, and the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. In unity there is strength, and thanks to our outreach efforts we are now coordinating more closely with all these groups.
AFSA also maintained a high public profile, with numerous interviews, television appearances and social media outreach. This proved to be of enormous help in getting our message out during the pandemic.
Our member services have not flagged, and we have managed to ramp up representation on matters large and small. The Foreign Service Journal has kept up an impressive pace, with more relevant content from and for members, and more advertising to pay for it.
AFSA’s current governing board will step down in mid-July, with gratitude to our members for their ideas and support and with a determination to hand over our list of priorities to the next board with clear evidence of progress on most of them.
There is a lot for the next board to tackle. As always, please send your advice, concerns and suggestions to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.