The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2021

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2021 7 L et 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 can- didates or political parties. We are com- mitted to representing all our 16,700-plus members, as well as those in the FS com- munity who are not AFSAmembers. 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 con- structively 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 themmy 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 pos- sibility for our Service and for our country’s conduct of diplomacy and development. The Service has been through a very dif- ficult four years. The administration pro- posed unprecedented cuts to our fund- ing 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 presi- dent refer to our nation’s oldest govern- ment 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 Ser- vice, 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 Ambas- sador Masha Yovanovitch abandoned by their superiors in the face of hyper-polar- ization 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 unprec- edented absence of a single career officer serving as a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary of State. Our country’s leaders denied themselves the advice and wis- dom of our most seasoned and experi- enced 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 prag- matic, positive approach taken by senior agency leaders on issues such as COVID- 19 policy, children with special needs, paid parental leave, support for employ- ees who are teleworking and financial support for members of the Service sub- poenaed 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 admin- istration to the best of our abilities. We hope that our most senior col- leagues will be entrusted with the posi- tions they have prepared for decades to assume. A healthy mix of political and career appointees is a critical element in making our systemwork. Finally, we hope the new administra- tion 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. n A Moment of Hope and Possibility BY ER I C RUB I N Ambassador Eric Rubin is the president of the American Foreign Service Association. PRESIDENT’S VIEWS