The Foreign Service Journal, June 2003

F O C U S O N A F S A’ S 3 0 Y E A R S A S A U N I O N he constituents of Rep. Dante Fascell, D-Fla., in southern Miami/Dade County were a lot more concerned about astro- nomical interest rates and gaso- line shortages in the late 1970s than they were about how the Foreign Service was organized. So there was little to cause the future chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to devote countless hours to this issue apart from his own abiding passion for strengthening this critical but neglected institution of government. The hostage crisis in Iran would soon bring the Foreign Service of the United States into sharp public focus. However, when delibera- tions on the Foreign Service Act began, the tendency was toward the fragmentation of the Service, symbolized by the creation of a separate Foreign Commercial Service in the Department of Commerce. For many of us in the middle ranks of the Foreign Service dur- ing this period, the choice was: “reform it or leave it.” For their own reasons, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and his management team also saw the need for sub- stantial change, and began drafting a new Foreign Service Act to replace the Rogers Act of 1924 and the Foreign Service Act of 1946. On a parallel track, and following in the footsteps of the earlier reform effort led by a group known as the “Young Turks,” a group of FSOs, including myself, ran as a slate in the 1979 AFSA Governing Board elections, calling ourselves the “Professional Renewal Organization (FS PROs).” Following a hotly contested campaign, we received a strong mandate for our declared intention of shaping and supporting a new Foreign Service Act, though many had misgivings about the process. In the exist- ing climate, there was genuine concern that the exer- cise was designed to merge the Foreign Service into the Civil Service System or to curtail its special benefits. Thus, an unlikely coalition with quite distinct objec- tives formed among congressional leaders, foreign affairs management and the members of the Service. The AFSA team consulted by telegram with our con- stituents around the globe and created an agenda of over 200 individual issues that needed to be addressed. Our goal was the creation of a sin- gle Foreign Service able to represent effectively the broad range of U.S. international interests and to provide a ful- filling career for its members. Over the next year, hundreds of AFSA volunteers — staff members, FS employees of all levels, spouses and retirees — formed committees to define these issues, negotiate with management and make our case publicly and on the Hill. Late into the night and on weekends, on top of our day jobs, we engaged in negotiations that frequently were every bit as intense as those the Foreign Service conducts with other nations. The issues we confronted were as much internal to our own constituencies as they were external. We sought, above all, to develop ongoing mechanisms for the Service itself to deal with these points since most of them are inherent to our profession. Key issues includ- ed the following: F OLLOWING IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE “Y OUNG T URKS ,” THE AFSA G OVERNING B OARD PLAYED A KEY ROLE LEADING UP TO THE F OREIGN S ERVICE A CT OF 1980. B Y K EN B LEAKLEY 42 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / J U N E 2 0 0 3 T AFSA AND THE F OREIGN S ERVICE A CT OF 1980