You Are AFSA: AFSA Needs You

President’s Views


As we look forward to a new year with sincere hopes for peace, health, and security, we do not mourn the end of 2022, a year that saw the return of large-scale war and suffering to the European continent, the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, and the increasing evidence of climate change affecting much of the world. We, America’s professional diplomats and international development specialists, can be proud of our efforts to defend and advance our country’s security and prosperity and the cause of peaceful settlement of disputes, which is the central meaning of diplomacy.

This new year is also an important one for AFSA. We celebrate the 50th anniversary of AFSA as the labor union and sole legal bargaining agent for the Foreign Service of all six foreign affairs agencies and departments—the Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, Foreign Commercial Service, Foreign Agricultural Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and U.S. Agency for Global Media.

One by one, beginning in 1973, FS employees of the agencies elected AFSA as their bargaining agent, starting with the State Department. In the Jan. 26, 1973, letter to AFSA board chair William Harrop, Secretary of State William Rogers writes:

“Having received notice from the Executive Secretary of the Employee-Management Relations Commission of the certification that the American Foreign Service Association received a majority of the valid votes cast in the representation election among the eligible Foreign Service employees of the Department, I hereby accord recognition to your organization as exclusive representative.

“I am confident that the constructive and cooperative relationship between management officials and the organization representing Foreign Service employees envisioned by Executive Order 11636 will be our mutual goal under the exclusive recognition granted by this letter.”

Ambassador Tom Boyatt, who was part of the AFSA team that led the way to unionization, tells this story as only he can, of how AFSA went from a polite diplomats’ society to a strong union and powerful advocate for the career Foreign Service.

This is also AFSA’s 99th year, and we are planning events and initiatives to mark not only AFSA’s centennial in 2024, but also the centennial of the modern U.S. Foreign Service, created by the

Rogers Act of 1924 that merged the diplomatic and consular services into one new federal corps.

There is an additional reason why 2023 is important: It is an election year for AFSA. Every two years, our members choose the governing board that oversees AFSA’s mission and work. This year, we are heading into the election period with a series of proposed reforms to our bylaws that aim to take into account the changes in how we work and live in a world altered by pandemic and technology.

There is an additional reason why 2023 is important: It is an election year for AFSA.

I strongly urge AFSA members to approve the proposed amendments as part of this election. The proposals were carefully considered before being issued, and the current board strongly believes that each will make the association stronger. We have taken the lessons of the last few years and attempted to apply them to AFSA’s governance going forward. To that end, we suggest amendments relating to board meeting participation; the voting period for AFSA elections (reflecting the almost-exclusive use of online voting); making an allowance of board continuity during public emergencies; and updating old language that no longer appropriately describes how AFSA operates today.

An important proposed bylaw amendment would allow certain board representatives to serve from overseas. Until now, all AFSA Governing Board members have been required to be resident in the Washington, D.C., area and attend monthly board meetings in person. If the changes are adopted, we will still require members of the AFSA Executive Committee as well as State and retiree representatives to be resident in the D.C. area, but other agency representatives will be able to serve from overseas and attend board meetings virtually. Therefore, up to a quarter of the board could serve from abroad.

We believe this is an essential change that will increase representation and participation without detracting from the effectiveness of the board. The full language of these proposals starts on page 53 in AFSA News and will be shared again with members by email in mid-January. You can also find it on the AFSA website at

In recent years, AFSA and the Foreign Service have navigated the treacherous shoals of impeachment, COVID, and the war in Ukraine. AFSA has helped achieve major changes to legislation that protect our members and their families and ensure that their service is less onerous, from in-state college tuition for FS kids to the guaranteed right to cancel leases and contracts in connection with service overseas.

AFSA has played a significant role in fixing the rules that govern assignments for members with special-needs children, and in navigating changes to Foreign Service entry and support for members with disabilities. AFSA has contributed to serious efforts to address the lack of diversity in our Service, and to combat bullying and toxic workplace culture. There is much more to be done.

That is why I am making an appeal to all AFSA members: please consider running for a seat on the AFSA Governing Board. The Call for Nominations is in this month’s AFSA News and will be disseminated to members by email in mid-January. All seats on the board are open. The president and the four vice presidents for State, USAID, FCS, and FAS are full-time active-duty positions, considered as details to AFSA under our framework agreements with the agencies. The AFSA secretary and treasurer can be active-duty or retired, and the retiree VP comes from the constituency of retired members. All these positions, as well as the six State representative positions, require in-person attendance at monthly board meetings in Washington. If the bylaw amendments are approved, then other agency representative positions—one each for USAID, FCS, FAS, APHIS, and USAGM—can be filled by members in Washington or remotely.

We want AFSA to represent our Service in all of its diversity: racial and ethnic; gender; career tracks, skills, and backstops; geographic; and multi-agency service. To be successful, we need members to run for the AFSA Governing Board. Now that the election announcement is out, I hope that many of you will consider running for AFSA positions. Please reach out to current constituent vice presidents and representatives with any questions about the roles. The union and professional association is only as strong as its Governing Board. As we head into a new year that promises to bring new challenges and new opportunities, we need you to consider serving our Service, our members, and our profession.

Thank you for your membership, thank you for your dedication to service, and thank you for all that you do to support our country and the causes of diplomacy and international development. As always, AFSA is at your service: please email us at

Ambassador Eric Rubin is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.


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