BY ERIC RUBIN
Let me start by offering my warmest congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President–elect Kamala Harris and the nominees for senior positions announced to date. There is much to celebrate about our November elections: the largest numerical turnout in U.S. history, the first woman and first woman of color elected vice president, and both domestic and foreign observers confirming a free and fair election.
AFSA is fundamentally nonpartisan and nonpolitical. We do not endorse candidates or political parties. We are committed to representing all our 16,700-plus members, as well as those in the FS community who are not AFSA members. We represent everyone in the entire Foreign Service, regardless of political views.
As both the professional association and labor union for the Foreign Service, AFSA is committed to working constructively with the president Americans have chosen, as well as with his political appointees. I personally have worked for six presidents in the past 35 years and have given all of them my utmost dedication and loyalty. I know that my colleagues in the Foreign Service have done the same. This is who we are, and that is what we do.
This is a moment of hope and possibility for our Service and for our country’s conduct of diplomacy and development. The Service has been through a very difficult four years. The administration proposed unprecedented cuts to our funding of up to 35 percent every year. AFSA pushed back. For four years in a row, a bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress resoundingly rejected the cuts and passed strong funding to meet our country’s most critical challenges.
Early in this administration, we saw some of our best and most respected senior officers intentionally pushed out of the Service, leaving a vacuum at the top. We saw colleagues’ loyalty questioned because of their ethnicity or national origin. We watched the president refer to our nation’s oldest government department as “The Deep State Department” while the Secretary of State stood next to him, smiling.
We saw ground lost on the already inadequate state of diversity in the Service, particularly at the senior levels. In some respects, the Foreign Service is now less diverse than it was 30 years ago. We saw respected FS leaders like Ambassador Masha Yovanovitch abandoned by their superiors in the face of hyper-polarization and politicization of U.S. foreign policy. We saw a shortage of overseas positions that has led to painfully slow promotions, and in some cases early retirements, for some of our best people.
We saw the highest percentage of political appointee ambassadorships in modern times, as well as the unprecedented absence of a single career officer serving as a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary of State. Our country’s leaders denied themselves the advice and wisdom of our most seasoned and experienced career experts. We firmly believe that it has been not just their loss, but our country’s loss as well.
At the same time, real progress has been made in multiple areas in the past four years. We deeply appreciate the pragmatic, positive approach taken by senior agency leaders on issues such as COVID-19 policy, children with special needs, paid parental leave, support for employees who are teleworking and financial support for members of the Service subpoenaed to testify in the impeachment process. There have been many other achievements, too many to name here. And so I end on a positive note.
As we welcome the new president and administration later this month, we want them to know that the Foreign Service is determined to help our country succeed and to carry out the policies of the administration to the best of our abilities.
We hope that our most senior colleagues will be entrusted with the positions they have prepared for decades to assume. A healthy mix of political and career appointees is a critical element in making our system work.
Finally, we hope the new administration will accept AFSA’s offer to partner with them, and with Congress, to review needed changes to the Foreign Service, with a view toward modernization and reform wherever it is required. There is much work to be done, and AFSA is ready to do its part.