The Foreign Service Journal, September 2023

AFSA NEWS 56 SEPTEMBER 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL AFSA ON THE HILL | BY KIM GREENPLATE Advocacy in Congressional Stalemates The uncertainty earlier this summer surrounding the possibility of the U.S. defaulting on its debt put a pause on annual congressional considerations such as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). While Congress will consider these must-pass bills later in 2023, the delayed schedule leaves less time to address other legislative priorities. We see disagreement lead to gridlock in Congress frequently: Appropriations bills don’t come to the floor because of controversial policy riders; ambassadorships remain vacant with holds placed on nominees based on policy disputes unrelated to the individual; and few bills pass on their own, without larger legislative vehicles. It is imperative for AFSA to keep our priorities for Congress at the top of our minds, especially during times of political strife when focus is elsewhere. The reality is that not much becomes law throughout the year, and stalemates exacerbate that lack of productivity. AFSA is often rewarded only at the end of the calendar year when the NDAA and, recently, State Department authorization acts, finally become law. AFSA sends out a list of supported provisions for these larger pieces of legislation with the hope that they will be included in a final version of the bill. We must encourage continued passage of authorization bills, ideally as stand-alone bills rather than riders on larger bills. AFSA also works to influence the annual appropriations package by making requests to individual members of Congress and submitting related testimony to the appropriations committees. Discussions and reminders on appropriations requests are relevant throughout the year, not just during one season, with short-term funding bills acting as band-aids until agreement can be reached. Prioritizing our influence on appropriations is even more important in these tumultuous times. Congress views defense and non-defense discretionary spending separately when discussing topline budget numbers, as was clear from the debt ceiling discussions this past spring. AFSA advocates for the broader international affairs budget (IAB) as part of nondefense discretionary spending (NDD), which Congress controls through 10 of the 12 appropriations bills. The small universe of discretionary spending is the only place for funding cuts. AFSA must work with other foreign affairs advocacy groups to minimize the impact of NDD cuts on the IAB. Misperception of the IAB, despite its small size, causes it to be a target for proposed cuts year after year. Many on the Hill think that all IAB funding goes to foreign nations, rather than the hiring and work of our diplomats. To address this, AFSA educates members of Congress and their staff on the importance of the operational accounts in the IAB. Changing such misperceptions is a perpetual facet of AFSA’s advocacy work. AFSA strives to put the Foreign Service at the top of the authorization and appropriations priority lists for Congress, amid the ever-increasing stalemates that consume legislators’ attention. We do this by constantly reminding the legislative branch of the Foreign Service’s work that aids Americans at home and abroad— work that continues even when Congress’ work is at an impasse. n AFSA Membership Team Welcomes New Hire AFSA is pleased to welcome Mouna Koubaa as membership operations coordinator. Mouna has direct knowledge of the Foreign Service from her work in three different embassies over 18 years in Consular Services in Tunis, Paris, and Dubai. There, she managed complex cases involving U.S. citizens, liaising with government agencies and local authorities to ensure their safety. Her collaboration also led to the successful resolution of crises including terrorist incidents, missing persons, and repatriation. She brings this extensive experience as a locally employed (LE) staff member to AFSA. Mouna is the recipient of several State Department awards and has attended specialized training programs at the Foreign Service Institute and the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. A Tunisian-Dutch dual national, Mouna was raised in a multicultural European—North African environment. She speaks English, French, Arabic, and Dutch, with additional knowledge of Spanish. Mouna enjoys reading, particularly classical French literature, learning new languages, cooking international cuisine, and indoor cycling. She lives in Fairfax, Va., and can be reached at koubaa@ n C/O MOUNA KOUBAA