The Foreign Service Journal, March 2024

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2024 13 TALKING POINTS Ambassador Tracker: Congress’ Latest Since Nov. 1, 2023, the Senate has confirmed 13 nominees to ambassador and other senior positions in the foreign affairs agencies. These include nine career members of the Foreign Service to ambassadorships in Azerbaijan, Egypt, Gabon, Guatemala, Laos, Lebanon, Lithuania, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea. In addition, career FSO Elizabeth Richard was confirmed as coordinator for counterterrorism at the Department of State. Three political appointees were also confirmed: ambassadors to Barbados and Croatia as well as the USAID Inspector General, a position that had gone unfilled since December 2020. As of this writing in early February, seven nominees are ready for a vote on the Senate floor. The Senate confirmed Kurt Campbell to be deputy secretary of State on Feb. 6. In addition, on Jan. 31, President Biden selected John Podesta to replace John Kerry as his global representative on climate. While Kerry is currently the president’s special envoy, Podesta’s title will instead be senior adviser; as an adviser rather than a special envoy, he will not need to wait for Senate confirmation. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has a large backlog of nominations to work through: 22 ambassador nominations (mostly career FSOs), eight senior official nominations, and a whopping 383 FS promotions and tenures. AFSA will continue its tireless efforts to advocate on behalf of all career nominees. AFSA currently counts 25 ambassadorial vacancies around the world as well as five unfilled senior positions at State and USAID, including two assistant secretary positions at State and—yes, still!—the Inspector General role at State. Trouble for Feds Joining Walkout? Axios reported on Jan. 14 that House Republicans planned to push federal agencies, including the State Department, to punish employees who joined the group “Feds United for Peace” in a planned Jan. 16 walkout in protest of the Biden administration’s support for Israel in the Israel-Hamas conflict. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said ahead of the walkout that federal workers who join “deserve to be fired.” In response, the group posted on their Instagram account that the event was not technically a walkout, calling it instead a “day of mourning” and encouraging other government employees to join the movement by taking the day off. As it turned out, Jan. 16 was a snow day in Washington, D.C., and federal offices were closed. Two organizers of the event, both longtime government employees, told Government Executive—which granted them anonymity to speak—that they had discussed the planned protest with ethics officials at their agencies, who determined that as long as they took leave to participate, they would not be violating any laws or procedures. Participants were also encouraged to communicate about the protest on their personal time using their personal devices, thereby avoiding accusations of violating the Hatch Act. Speaker Johnson said in a tweet that he plans to “initiate appropriate disciplinary proceedings” against participants. But John Mahoney, an attorney focusing on federal employment law, told GovExec that protesters “have First Amendment rights like anyone else to raise grievances with the government,” though they could still face disciplinary action if they misuse leave or engage in misconduct in a manner that “has a nexus to their employment.” After AFSA contacted the State Department and asked it to put out guidance, the department issued a Jan. 22 cable reminding employees that its “political activities guidance does not prevent department employees from expressing their personal opinions about policies and issues” provided they do not connect the issue with a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan political office. AFSA encourages employees to contact their agency ethics officer if they have questions about permissible activities. READINESS Act to Support Spouses The Resilient Employment and Authorization Determination to Increase National Employment of Serving Spouses Act, or READINESS Act, was As though on the Titanic, leaders are steering the world toward catastrophe—more nuclear bombs, vast carbon emissions, dangerous pathogens, and artificial intelligence. Only the big powers like China, America, and Russia can pull us back. Despite deep antagonisms, they must cooperate—or we are doomed. —Former California Gov. Jerry Brown, executive chair of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in a Jan. 23 press release announcing the Doomsday Clock will remain at 90 seconds to midnight. Contemporary Quote