The Foreign Service Journal, May 2021

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MAY 2021 63 AFSA NEWS AFSA Webinar Fostering Constructive Dissent With a new administration in office, conditions are ripe to foster a stronger culture of constructive dissent in the Foreign Service, AFSA Presi- dent Eric Rubin said during a March 18 webinar, “How to Get Your Voice Heard.” Ambassador Rubin and several guests shared with AFSA members the best ways to use the various options for dissent available to Foreign Service employ- ees who feel they need to speak up about policy issues. “Constructive internal dissent is part of the Foreign Service DNA,” Amb. Rubin said, noting that AFSA took the lead in incorporating dis- sent into the policy process in the wake of the Vietnam War, helping to develop the State Department’s Dissent Channel in 1971. Constructive dissent is important in help- ing policymakers reach good decisions. AFSA supports dissent through its award programs, offering four annual Con- structive Dissent Awards. Amb. Rubin said he was proud of Foreign Service employees who spoke truth to power during the first impeachment trial of Presi- dent Donald Trump in 2019- 2020, as well as AFSA’s role in supporting them morally and also through AFSA’s legal aid fund. Today AFSA is working to resurrect the Secretary’s Open Forum, which was also founded during the Vietnam War, he said. “People should be able to speak up and speak sincerely, and then policy- makers need to decide what they are going to do. And we should not publicly chal- lenge their decisions once they have been made. We are a nonpartisan, nonpolitical career service,” he said. Two AFSA Construc- tive Dissent Award winners offered advice on dissenting. Senior Foreign Service Offi- cer Monica Smith, a USAID legal adviser and recipient of the 2020 Christian A. Herter award, said she turned to AFSA’s Labor Management for support and guidance. She added that it’s important to find allies in your agency who understand your position, and who can give you a gut check about whether you are taking appropriate steps. Moises Mendoza, a political officer who won the W. Averell Harriman award in 2019, said that while dissent is never easy and can, in fact, be scary, “I think you can never go wrong when you stand with your principles.” He also encouraged people who might dissent to find allies who can help see their dissent through. “I saw a situation that didn’t make sense, and I tried to think outside of the box to change it,” Mendoza said. “Sometimes a little disrup- tion can be a good thing for the institution.” AFSA Deputy General Counsel Raeka Safai noted that the Foreign Affairs Manual says people can use the Dissent Channel without fear of retribution. If you believe you are a victim of retribution, you can bring your concerns to the Office of the Inspector Gen- eral, who will investigate. Each agency has a whistleblower ombudsperson who can tell people about their rights and remedies, Safai said, adding that AFSA can help people who choose to file grievances if they feel they are victims of retaliation for speaking out. She also encouraged people to visit the Govern- ment Accountability Project’s webpage, resources. Amb. Rubin added that The Foreign Service Jour- nal’ s Speaking Out feature is another place where mem- bers can dissent, provided the subject is not classi- fied, and that members can always email AFSA to ask for assistance with dissent issues. Ambassador (ret.) Tom Boyatt, one of the found- ers of the Dissent Channel and an AFSA stalwart, was a surprise guest at the event. “All of this is a very precious thing,” he told the audience. “It doesn’t exist anyplace else in the government, or as far as I know in any other place in the world. We must defend it and use it wisely.” View a video of the event at n AFSA President Eric Rubin Moises Mendoza, W. Averell Harriman Award Winner Monica Smith, Christian A. Herter Award Winner AFSA Deputy General Counsel Raeka Safai