The Foreign Service Journal, October 2021

68 OCTOBER 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL STATE VP VOICE | BY TOM YAZDGERDI AFSA NEWS Assignment Restrictions: Hoping for Real Change Contact: | (202) 647-8160 In September 2017, The For- eign Service Journal featured an article about assignment restrictions, suggesting they may disproportionately affect Asian American Foreign Ser- vice employees. Co-authored by former Asian American Foreign Affairs Association presi- dents, that article ended on a positive note, reporting that advocacy by AAFAA and AFSA had compelled the department to propose new regulations. The proposed regulations were subject to negotiation with AFSA, and we success- fully added provisions that gave employees access to the factual grounds for their assignment restrictions and permitted them to challenge the initial decision and request review by the Bureau of Diplo- matic Security director. Since then, however, the situation does not appear to have improved. During the last four years, AFSA has assisted dozens of affected employees in filing requests for reconsideration of their assignment restric- tions; and complaints about the process, including the lack of an independent appeals mechanism and the dispro- portionate impact on Asian American employees, have continued. We have also seen restric- tions expand to countries, including long-term allies, that historically have not presented significant security concerns. Indeed, the number of assignment restrictions appears to have grown, and the appeals process still lacks transparency and credibility. AFSA Actions. To get at this problem, AFSA has had a long-standing request with DS to provide data regard- ing the nature and types of assignment restrictions so that we can ascertain whether there is a disparate impact on particular groups. In a June 2020 letter to the depart- ment, we specifically asked for this information, but have yet to receive a response that adequately addresses our concerns. AFSA President Eric Rubin and I raised the issue with then–Deputy Secretary Ste- phen Biegun at two meetings in 2020. In response, Biegun established the Assignment Restrictions Task Force, headed by a senior DS official, to look into whether the pro- gram was functioning fairly and transparently. With the new administra- tion, Eric and I also met twice with Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Brian McKeon, who informed us that the ARTF was engaged in a wholesale audit of every current assignment restric- tion. The results, we were told, would form the basis of a new policy. New Policy on the Way. We have learned that the department, which is still at work on the audit as of this writing, will announce the new policy as early as this fall. AFSAmaintains that any policy change should reflect a more transparent, objective and fair approach. Because every Foreign Service employee undergoes a rigor- ous vetting process before joining the department, we continue to reject adjudica- tive decisions that subject individuals to generalized assumptions of security vulnerability. The guardedly hopeful news is that in recent months we have seen a significant increase in favorable appeals decisions removing restric- tions. For example, in mid- August an employee shared that DS had notified him of a restriction removal despite his not having filed an appeal. Strong Feeling from the Hill. This issue has also received attention in Con- gress, including by Rep. Andy Kim (D-Calif.), son of Korean immigrants and a former State Department employee. Rep. Kim said in an interview in May that he left the department after receiving notice that he was barred from working on any issues related to Korea— even though he had never expressed an interest in such issues—and suspected it was because of his last name. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) called the current assignment restrictions program“offen- sive and disrespectful” at a June hearing with Secretary Antony Blinken. AFSA, in consultation with AAFAA, has been working with Rep. Lieu’s office, provid- ing analysis and input into proposed legislation concern- ing assignment restrictions. This legislation, while simi- lar to language in the recent State Department authoriza- tion bill, seeks to create an independent assignment restrictions panel and, more significantly, mandates provi- sion of data by the depart- ment to Congress on an annual basis to ensure that no groups are adversely affected by the program. AFSA has strongly endorsed this legislation and hopes that by the time of this column’s publication, it will have been introduced and garnered bipartisan support. We acknowledge that there may be times when it is appropriate to apply an assignment restriction. But it must be done only in the most compelling circumstances, must be transparently and fairly reasoned and must allow for an independent and timely appeals process. The sad fact is that this is not the case at present. AFSA will follow up and keep our membership informed. In the meantime, please let us know what you think at n