Ladies & Gentlemen, Your Next Ambassadors to the Best of Europe

Posted: 1:40 am EDT



Abolish the State Department? Really? Should we pretend to freak out now or later?

Posted: 12:17 am EDT


The GOP candidates have been trying to out-crazy each other under the shadow of the Trump circus canopy. Cruz would like to “abolish the IRS; take all 125,000 IRS agents, and put them on our southern border.” The same candidate would also like to get rid of the Department of Education.  Paul asks in a video on the website that supporters sign a petition to have Congress also eliminate the IRS. At least seven candidates want to end “birthright citizenship” under the 14th Amendment, which grants everyone born in the United States of America the right of citizenship. Jindal suggested abolishing the Supreme Court. Carson suggested eliminating the Department of Veterans Affairs. Before suspending his campaign, Walker proposed scrapping the National Labor Relations Board, eliminating public employee unions and making right-to-work the national standard for workplaces.

Last week, a former United States Senator representing Pennsylvania, the one with a Google problem, added his voice to the “abolish this or that” crowd. Mr. Santorum was a GOP presidential candidate in 2011; he suspended his campaign in April 2012. This past May, Mr. Santorum announced his candidacy for the 2016 presidential election. Apparently, Mr. Santorum now has a two-campaign cycle dream of abolishing the U.S. Department of State.

Who knew?



What else did this smart potato say?



Can you hear him? No?

Apologies for the glitches, it sound like he does not like the State Department because employees there spend way too much time talking to foreigners?  Maybe they speak way too many foreign languages and not enough American?  American officials also wear strange shoes and un-American clothes, is that it? Ay, caramba! Oooh, do not/do not show him the fantastic headgears, you, internationalists, you!

Here are Santorum’s specific complaints according to BuzzFeed:

“I said that when I ran four years ago — the first thing I’d do is abolish the State Department and start all over.”

“I have to tell you, I dealt with them for 12 years, I was on the committees that had a lot of interaction with them, and, you know, not that there aren’t a few good people in there,” Santorum continued. “I’m sure there are really good, dedicated public — but look, it’s just, they are a bunch of internationalists who do not look after the interests of the United States. They don’t look at the world from the standpoint of the United States and our principles being the ones that are the best.”

“They’re relativists, they’re internationalists, and they are not serving the interests of the American people,” Santorum concluded.

“It’s like, if all the tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail,” Santorum said. “Every problem that the State Department has, the answer is diplomacy. Why? Because if it’s not diplomacy, they don’t have a job.

“And so the answer is never to do anything, the answer is always to appease, to talk,” he continued. “I mean, I’m sure that they, that John Kerry, they’re just having the greatest love-fest over at the State Department right now, because they got a deal!

You guys are having a love-fest and you did not invite us … please send photos?!

Two candidates have already suspended their campaigns but Mr. Santorum’s campaign for some reason appears to still be chugging along. We imagine that his candidacy will fold sooner than later. But it looks like he is unable, as yet, to accept the unbearable inevitability of his short campaign life.

So okay, let’s see who else he plans to abolish with brain waves next week. Then we’ll pretend to freak out.


US Embassy Burkina Faso Orders Staff to Shelter in Place Amidst Coup Attempt

Posted: 2:06 am EDT


A Travel Alert was issued for Burkina Faso in early September (see Travel Alert Burkina Faso (September 3, 2015). On September 16, the U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou issued a “shelter in place” order for its staff amidst what appeared to be a military coup attempt less than a year after the former president, Blaise Compaoré was driven out of power.

On Wednesday, September 16 the U.S. Embassy received reports that military elements are holding the President, Prime Minister, and other Cabinet Members hostage.  Civil society organizations are calling for demonstrators to gather at the Place de la Nation (also known as the Place de la Revolution) and at the Presidential Palace.  Road blocks near the Presidential Palace have been established.  Gunshots have been fired in various locations in Ouagadougou. Embassy employees have been instructed to shelter in place until further notice.  

Likewise, we urge U.S. citizens in Ouagadougou to shelter in place.  U.S. citizens are urged to remain vigilant and to utilize appropriate personal security practices.  The U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens to avoid large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations.  The U.S. Embassy urges all U.S. citizens to maintain situational awareness and exercise good judgment.  Be alert and remain aware of your surroundings.  Stay informed and abreast of local media reports.

The Embassy also released the following statement:

Recent Actions By Elements of the Presidential Guard in Burkina Faso

“The United States is deeply concerned about the unfolding events in Burkina Faso. We call for the immediate release of President Kafando, Prime Minister Zida, and all other officials being held.

The United States strongly condemns any attempt to seize power through extra-constitutional means or resolve internal political disagreements using force.

We call for an immediate end to violence, urge the military personnel involved to return to their primary mission, and reaffirm our steadfast support for the civilian transitional government to continue its work of preparing for free, fair, and credible elections on October 11.”





Related posts:

Kerry Appoints Retired Diplomat Janice Jacobs as @StateDept’s “Email Czar”

Posted: 1:44 pm EDT
Updated: 7:08 pm EDT
Updated: Sept 9, 6:07 pm EDT

Via CNN:

Secretary of State John Kerry has tapped a former career diplomat as an “email czar” to coordinate the State Department response to the myriad of document requests mostly related to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which have strained the department’s resources, officials familiar with the appointment tell CNN.

Janice Jacobs will serve as Kerry’s State Department’s Transparency Coordinator, charged with responding to Freedom of Information Act and congressional requests faster and more efficiently and improving the State Department systems for keeping records.



A career diplomat, Janice Jacobs previously served as Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs from June 2008 to April 2014. She retired from the Foreign Service in April 2014 (see Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs to Retire Effective April 3). According to the State Department spokesperson, Ambassador Jacobs will will report directly to the Secretary and to Deputy Secretary Higginbottom, the deputy for management and resources. She won’t be embedded in a bureau but the State Department will “make sure that she has the administrative support that she needs to do her job.”  According to the spox, the plan going forward is that Ambassador Jacobs will have “regular meetings with both Deputy Secretary Higginbottom and the Secretary on a consistent, frequent basis to talk about what she’s learning, recommendations she wants to make. And then as the IG comes back with recommendations it intends to make, she will be responsible for helping the Department implement those. “

Secretary Kerry released the following statement on Ambassador Jacobs’ appointment:

Today, I am pleased to announce the appointment of Ambassador Janice Jacobs as the State Department’s Transparency Coordinator, charged with improving document preservation and transparency systems.

Ambassador Jacobs will lead Departmental efforts to meet the President’s Managing Government Records Directive, to respond to recommendations from the review I asked the Department’s Inspector General to launch earlier this year, and to work with other agencies and the private sector to explore best practices and new technologies. I have also asked her to focus on improving our systems for responding to Freedom of Information Act and congressional requests faster and more efficiently.

As I have repeatedly made clear, we have a fundamental obligation to document the conduct of U.S. foreign policy and to produce our records in response to requests from the public and Congress. Our records, and our ability to share them, serve as testament to our commitment to transparency and open government. I take very seriously that responsibility, and so does everyone else at the State Department.

I am grateful for the work being done by scores of people across the Department who continue to support the unprecedented number of requests we are facing — a three-fold increase in Freedom of Information requests alone since 2008 or the numerous requests for information from members of Congress.

However, it is clear that our systems and our resources are straining to keep pace with the growing number of records we create and the expanding demand for access to them. It is time to take further action. I want the Department to lead on these issues, to set and achieve a new standard for our efforts, and harness new technological tools in order to meet our commitments. To reach that goal, we must think boldly and creatively. As we enhance our records management system, we also intend to fundamentally improve our ability to respond to requests for our records.

Ambassador Jacobs is exactly the right person for this job. She not only has a distinguished record of service in the State Department, but she also has a track record of successfully leading critical reform efforts: she reorganized the Visa Office after 9/11 and reformed how the Department engages with law enforcement and intelligence communities to share information. As my Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, she also led efforts to meet the Administration’s new visa issuance goals. She is a proven leader who knows how to run large organizations and produce results.

I am grateful she has agreed to take this on. She will have not only my full support, but that of the Department as well.


September 9, 2015


According to Politico, the State Department spokesperson, John Kirby expressed some indignance that Jacobs — a career foreign service officer — was being faulted for a political donation she made, especially after leaving the government.

“This is the United States of America. It’s a democracy. People are allowed to do these kinds of things,” Kirby said. “That’s a very bad place to be if we’re going to start criticizing people for campaign contributions that they make in their private time, in retirement no less. I just don’t think that’s the place we want to be as a country.”

Read more of that here.


Burn Bag: Who would The Trumpster appoint as ambassadors?

Via Burn Bag:

Watching U.S. Presidential races from overseas is excruciating. The only thing more horrifying than the prospect of President Trump is, who would he appoint for ambassadors? 



‘Anchor Babies’ and the Law: An Explainer From a Former Consular Officer

Posted: 1:55 am EDT


NPR News writes that both Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have defended birthright citizenship, but they have said more needs to be done about women who might come into the U.S. expressly to have children. “If there’s abuse, if people are bringing, pregnant women are coming in to have babies simply because they can do it, then there ought to be greater enforcement,” Bush told conservative radio host Bill Bennett this week, as reported by Politico. Like how, or greater enforcement of what?

Birthright citizenship and “anchor baby”  are in the front burner of political campaigns these days.  The Congressional Research Service (CRS) issued this report on Birthright Citizenship Under the 14th Amendment of Persons Born in the United States to Alien Parents (via Secrecy News) back in 2012.  The report is dated January 10, 2012 but is an interesting read on the various legislative proposals and its history. There is a useful discussion of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1866 included in the report. In related news, denial of birth certificates to U.S. born children of undocumented immigrants in Texas is now a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Austin, TX.

Peter Van Buren, a consular officer by trade until his retirement from the Foreign Service has written a straight-forward explainer on this subject. Excerpted below:

Explainer: ‘Anchor Babies’ and the Law
by Peter Van Buren (We Meant Well Blog)

Thanks to brave presidential candidates Trump and Bush, et al, the term “anchor baby” is now the subject of interest and ignorance by a media preoccupied with whatever shiny object is held in front of it.

Trump wants to tear up part of the Constitution he unilaterally proclaims is unconstitutional; no one is sure what the other Republicans plan to “do” about this issue, but they sure don’t support it somehow.

Anchor Babies

So what are “anchor babies” and which parts of American law affect them?

An “anchor baby” (many find the term offensive, referring as it does to a child as an object) is a child born in the United States to a foreign citizen, legally or illegally present in the U.S., who, by virtue of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, automatically and forever acquires American citizenship. The child need only prove s/he was born in the U.S.

The term anchor comes into play because at the age of 21 the child can begin filing green card paperwork for his/her extended family. The single American citizen in a family becomes the “anchor” through which all can eventually become legal permanent residents of the U.S. and soon after, citizens.

Many conservatives feel conveying citizenship so freely cheapens the meaning of being an “American,” and especially object to the idea that a mother illegally in the United States can birth an American citizen. Others are troubled by a growing industry that sends foreign mothers to the U.S. specifically so that they can create such citizens, so-called “birth tourism.”

The Law

The concept that anyone born in the U.S. (one exception: those born not subject to U.S. law, which has been held to apply primarily to Native Americans and to children of certain accredited foreign diplomats exempt [immune] from U.S. laws, though there are loopholes even there) is automatically an American citizen is part of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, the so-called Citizenship Clause.

The 14th was adopted in 1868, in the aftermath of the Civil War as part of reconciling the status of millions of slaves forcibly brought to the United States. The Citizenship Clause specifically overruled the 1857 Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford), which had held that Americans descended from African slaves could not be citizens of the United States. The Amendment cleared up any ambiguities, stating “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”

The most significant test of the 14th Amendment came in 1898, via United States v. Wong Kim Ark. The Supreme Court upheld that a child born in the United States automatically became a U.S. citizen. At issue were laws passed after the Wong child’s birth that excluded Chinese citizens from entering the U.S. The decision in Wong has been understood to mean that the legal status of the mother, as well as any secondary immigration laws below the Constitution, have no bearing on the granting of citizenship.

It can get complicated, and there have been unsuccessful efforts to overturn or reinterpret Wong in light of contemporary concerns over immigration.

For those who like their law in Latin, the idea that anyone born in a certain country automatically acquires citizenship there is called jus soli (right of soil.) The opposite, that citizenship is derived only via one’s parents, is called jus sanguinis (right of blood.) No European nation offers unrestricted jus soli, and very few other countries outside the Western Hemisphere do either.

Foreigners, Visas and Babies

While some foreigners who give birth in the U.S. enter illegally by walking across a land border, a significant number of moms enter the U.S. on visas or the rough equivalent, the visa waiver program, which provides less fettered access to citizens from certain countries, mostly Europeans. Some give birth in the U.S.; is this legal?

It is. There is no law whatsoever that prohibits someone from coming to the United States specifically to give birth here and create an “anchor baby.”

Many uninformed commentators point to two visa laws that they feel may prohibit such an act, the “public charge” provision and the fraud provision.
Birth Tourism

The current issue of Rolling Stone contains a long article on “birth tourism.” Such “tourism” is a huge business in Asia, particularly in China where rising incomes coincide with existing interest in emigration. Companies arrange for everything; a mom need only provide money. The companies legally assist the mother in obtaining a visa, arrange for her to stay in the U.S. in an apartment complex (dubbed “maternity hotels”), usually in California for convenience for flights from Asia, full of other Chinese moms, and then give birth in a local hospital staffed with Chinese-speaking doctors.
There is absolutely nothing illegal about birth tourism under U.S. law.

Read in full Explainer: ‘Anchor Babies and the Law at the We Meant Well blog.


AFSA Releases Official Results of 2015-2017 AFSA Governing Board Elections

Posted: 12:07 pm EDT


Last week, we blogged this: AFSA Elections Unofficial Results: Barbara Stephenson’s Strong Diplomacy Slate Projected to Win. AFSA has now released the official results via

Strong Dip AFSA

Photo by Strong Diplomacy Slate/FB

The AFSA Committee on Elections is pleased to announce the results of the 2015-2017 AFSA Governing Board elections and Bylaw Amendment. A total of 4,034 valid ballots were received (3,011 online and 1,023 paper). The following AFSA members have been elected:

Officer Positions on the Board


Barbara Stephenson * – 2,032

Matthew K. Asada ** – 1,001

Tex Harris – 861


Bill Haugh * – 3,359


Charles A. Ford * – 3,381

State Vice President: 

Angie Bryan * – 1,442

Kit Junge – 637

USAID Vice President:

Sharon Wayne – 136

FCS Vice President:

Steve Morrison – 31

FAS President:

Mark Petry – 11

Retiree Vice President:

Tom Boyatt – 780

Charles A. Ray ** – 351

Larry Cohen – 257

Constituency Representatives of the Board

State Representatives (11 positions):

John Dinkelman * – 1,337

Lawrence Casselle * – 1,223

Philip G. Laidlaw * – 1,212

Sam Thielman * – 1,180

Leah M. Pease * – 1,169

Tricia Wingerter * – 1,165

Josh Glazeroff * – 1,158

Margaret Hawthorne * – 1,155

Erin O’Connor * – 1,128

Peter Neisuler * – 1,089

Eric Geelan * – 977

Ronnie S. Catipon – 708

Brynn C. Bennett ** – 675

Neeru Lal ** – 594

Homeyra Mokhtarzada ** – 584

Dan Spokojny ** – 570

Steve McCain ** – 559

Pat Kabra ** – 549

Joel Wisner ** – 543

Ronita Macklin ** – 442

Doug Morrow – 418

Steven M. Jones – 373

USAID Representatives (2 positions):

Jeff Cochrane – 116

Lorraine Sherman – 82

FCS Representative:

William Kutson – 31

FAS Representative:

Corey Pickelsimer – 3

APHIS Representative:

Mark C. Prescott – 3

BBG (IBB) Representative:

To be determined in accordance with the AFSA Bylaws.

Retiree Representatives (4 positions):

John Limbert – 1,147

Alphonse F. La Porta * – 1,096

Patricia Butenis * – 1,051

Dean Haas * – 1,037

* Member of the Strong Diplomacy slate
** Member of the Future Forward AFSA slate

AFSA Elections Unofficial Results: Barbara Stephenson’s Strong Diplomacy Slate Projected to Win

Posted: 9:40 pm EDT


The AFSA Governing Board Elections for 2015-2017 concluded on June 4. Preliminary results indicate that slightly over 4,000 votes were cast.  About a quarter of over 16,000 eligible voters turned out to vote. This is still a low turnout but higher than all the previous years since we started paying attention — 20% in 2007, 23.91% in 2009, 17% in 2011, and  22% in 2013.  Congratulations are in order to everyone who pushed the turnout to at least 25% this year!

The higher turnout is attributed to several factors  including the presence of two slates, the new electronic voting system, AFSA reminders and the name recognition of candidates.

Preliminary results project the election of Ambassador Barbara Stephenson’s entire slate. Ambassador Stephenson garnered over 5o% of the votes for president.  The remaining votes for the top spot were split with a 3% difference between Matthew Asada and Tex Harris.

The retiree representatives elected are all familiar names, John Limbert,  Alphonse F. La Porta, Patricia Butenis, and Dean Haas. It also looks like all the State representatives are new with no incumbents reelected.

We will have a follow-up post as soon as official results are released.



New #Burundi Travel Warning, Non-Emergency US Embassy Staff & Family Members Now on Ordered Departure

Posted: 9:46 pm  PDT


We posted this earlier today: US Embassy Burundi: Amidst Coup Attempt, No Movement of Personnel Until Further Notice. Sometime in the last 24 hours, the State Department must have decided to place the US Embassy in Bujumbura on “ordered departure.” A new Travel Warning was released today. Non-emegency personnel and family members are also ordered to depart the country.   Ordered Departure is initiated in extraordinary circumstances when the embassy is no longer confident of the security of its personnel and families. Once the Under Secretary of State for Management (“M”) approves the evacuation status for post—either authorized or ordered—the 180-day clock “begins ticking” (by law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days).

The State Department also recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Burundi depart “as soon as it is feasible to do so.”   Meanwhile, the game of continues, and there are still conflicting reports on social media regarding the operating status of the Bujumbura airport.

by-map bujumbura

Below is an excerpt from the new Travel Warning dated May 14:

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Burundi and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Burundi depart as soon as it is feasible to do so.  As a result of the deteriorating security situation, the Department of State ordered the departure of dependents of U.S. government personnel and non-emergency U.S. government personnel from Burundi on May 14.  The U.S. Embassy is able to offer only very limited emergency services to U.S. citizens in Burundi.  This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning issued on May 11, 2015.

The security situation remains fluid and volatile because of military and security forces activity in Bujumbura.  There have been increased political tensions and civil disturbances related to these actions.  Airport and land borders are reportedly closed.  U.S. citizens should shelter in place until it is safe to move about, ensure that your travel documents are up-to-date, and confirm that air and land borders are open before attempting to depart the country.

The terrorist organization al-Shabaab, based in Somalia, has threatened to conduct terror attacks in Burundi.  It may also target U.S. interests in Burundi.  Political violence persists throughout Burundi, a carryover of the Burundian civil war. Armed groups operate in Burundi.  Weapons are easy to obtain and some ex-combatants have turned to crime or political violence.  Crime, often committed by groups of armed bandits or street children, poses the highest risk for foreign visitors.  Exchanges of gunfire and grenade attacks have increased but are usually not directed at foreigners.  If you encounter such a situation, stay indoors in a ground floor interior room away from doors and windows.  Common crimes include muggings, burglaries, and robberies.  U.S. government personnel are prohibited from walking on the streets after dark and from using local public transportation at any time.  Local authorities in any part of Burundi are often unable to provide timely assistance during an emergency.

Demonstrations, gatherings, and even sporting events that are intended to be peaceful can turn violent without advance warning.  For this reason, U.S. citizens should routinely monitor local media sources and the Internet for reports of demonstrations and unrest, and avoid political rallies, demonstrations, and crowds of any kind.

Travel outside the capital, Bujumbura, presents significant risks, especially after nightfall.  Note the U.S. embassy limits and monitors the travel of its personnel in Burundi.  All movement by embassy employees outside the city from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. is prohibited.  Likewise, U.S. citizens should not travel on national highways from dusk to dawn.  Armed criminals ambush vehicles, particularly on the roads leading out of Bujumbura.  Keep vehicle doors locked and windows up when stopped in heavy traffic.

Corruption is endemic in Burundi and contributes to an environment where the rule of law is not respected.  Government officials may ask for bribes for providing routine services.  Travelers are frequently stopped, questioned, and asked for bribes by security forces at numerous official and unofficial roadblocks throughout the country.  Likewise, criminals who have paid off local officials may operate with impunity.


AFSA Elections: What’s Missing This Campaign Season? Fire, Ice and Some Spirited Debates, Please

Posted: 2:20 am  EDT


Retired SFSO David T. Jones, in the aftermath of a highly contentious 2009 election,  wrote that “AFSA’s elections must return to diplomatic civility rather than channeling canines contending over hunks of meat.”

The 2011 election was tamed and supervised by the Department of Labor. The 2013 election was underwhelming with most positions uncontested. The 2015 election by contrast has two full slates with fairly recognizable candidates. But one only has to watch a couple of town halls meetings to recognize that this is the most polite campaign to-date.  As if they were afraid to offend each other by asking real questions.

There are three candidates running for President of AFSA: Barbara Stephenson (Strong Diplomacy), Matthew Asada (Future Forward AFSA) and Tex Harris (no slate). Odd thing here is that Mr. Harris while running for president has also endorsed Mr. Asada.

On the May 6 campaign message, Ambassador Stephenson says this:

This election season, voters have a clear choice. If you are satisfied with what AFSA has been achieving for you, then there are two presidential candidates who represent that tradition. If, however, you want to see senior, experienced leaders and managers known for their interpersonal and negotiation skills work to achieve a more strategic set of outcomes, then please vote for the entire Strong Diplomacy slate.

Mr. Asada’s May 6 campaign message says:

Future Forward AFSA is running to ensure that AFSA remains an independent voice for the Foreign Service. Employees need an advocate that can collaborate with management to get things done, and challenge it when it strikes out in the wrong direction. AFSA was the first to sound the alarm about this bidding cycle’s “100 job deficit”.

Well, who else is supposed to sound the alarm, if not AFSA?

A SFSO deeply active in AFSA speaking on background says that he/she agrees that “there should not be personal attacks of any kind” but that there ought to be “a robust and spirited debates on the issues!” Candidates should be free to critique the current Board’s record, this AFSA fella told us, but that they should also elaborate what they would do differently.  Which seems fair enough.  If AFSA has set up an election forum, that should be put to excellent use in the last few weeks of this campaign.

We must say that it has not always been easy to get answers from AFSA in the last two years.  There are a few pet peeves we’d like to throw in because we never got a satisfying response.

Indefinite Senate “Hold” on Rank and File Nominations

We remain concerned about the genesis of the Senate “hold” on ordinary non-ambassadorial ranked members of the Foreign Service. The hold has air quotes because our understanding is that some nominations are actually not officially put in for consideration but is in what we’d call “confirmation purgatory.”  We have also asked about a few FSOs whose nominations have been stuck in the Senate confirmation process dating back to 2012. An AFSA insider who declined to be identified refers to the “mean-spiritedness” in the confirmation process.  We have asked Mr. Asada directly about the eight nominations awhile back and received no response.  Other folks we’ve asked were advised by AFSA not to talk to us about this.  This is concerning because the blog Dead Men Working has been blogging up a storm about this issue since late last year.  While we do not agree with everything DMW writes, that blog raises some troubling allegations that we think must be addressed.

The jobs, the jobs, shouldn’t we just do an auction every two years?

We understand that the Chief of Mission Guidelines initiative was adopted in part by the Obama Administration and is reportedly now being legislated in part by the Senate’s draft State Authorization bill.  (See AFSA Releases Underwhelming Ambassador Guidelines For “Successful Performance”).

There were two things we were hoping to see from AFSA: 1)  work on strengthening the Foreign Service Act of 1980 through Congress, who is after all, tasked to provide “advice and consent”on ambassadorial nominees under the U.S. Constitution, and 2)  work on the reinstatement of the OIG Inspector Evaluation Reports (IERs)  to promote accountability and successful performance of our chiefs of missions overseas.

That did not happen, of course. At the time when this COM Guidelines was being massaged into a sausage, we’ve heard from a good number of AFSA members  asking why this  was “done in the dark” without informing the membership. A couple helpfully suggested that perhaps the USG should just auction off all these jobs every two years given that anyone can do the work.  Well, what do you think about that auction?

AFSA’s Ambassador Statistics

We’ve seen the Obama political ambassador statistics at over 40% thrown about. The says 41% citing AFSA statistics on ambassadors. Roll Call repeated the number here on political ambassadorships.  We sent a note to AFSA citing the questions on Twitter re: ambo stats, specifically the accuracy of the % cited and if it has any comment. We  never got a response.

Blog pal @Philip Arsenault has done a lot of good work using presidential records to track the ambassadorial appointees going back to the Eisenhower Era.  He was not able to replicate the 41% Obama political ambassadorships attributed to AFSA.  It looks like AFSA counts every International Organization (IO) ambassadors for Obama but has sparse info for every other president. Since IO has the highest number of pol appointees, this could easily skew the numbers for President Obama.  If AFSA is counting IO appointees for the Obama tenure, it should also count the IO appointees for all other presidents.  Fairness requires that.  If it is unable to account for those IO appointees from other presidents, it should ditch the Obama numbers in the counting or  if they have to use to IO data, it must be clearly noted as such.

Also if AFSA is counting CDAs as ambassadors even when those are not Senate confirmed appointees, this could mess up with the numbers.  As an example of this, take a look at AFSA’s list for President Reagan’s ambassadors to Ethiopia from 1982-1991 (Reagan was in office from January 20, 1981 – January 20, 1989).  All three — Korn, Cheek, Houdek — are listed as career appointees. They are but there’s a problem.

According to, these diplomats were appointed as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim; they were not nominated by President Reagan, and they were not confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 2.38.18 PM

Screen capture from

Once Philip brought his concern to our attention, we stopped using AFSA’s numbers. As of this writing, the AFSA Ambassador Tracker indicates that President Obama’s political ambassador appointees for the second term is down from the reported 41% to 35.9%, still higher than Philip’s number which is 32.9%. We trust Philip’s data more because when there are questions, he is responsive, when there’s an error, he is quick to fix it. With AFSA, we got nothing but radio silence and we don’t see how we could rely on those numbers until they’re properly scrubbed.


Wanna Talk About Stuff?

Depending on where you’re sitting, the following could mean something or not, worth a discussion at the election forum or not:

  • AFSA told us, “We do not publish election statistics on the AFSA website, nor do we provide that information to anonymous sources.” Again we’re asking — what legitimate reason is there for the election statistics of the labor union of the United States Foreign Service not to be public record or at the minimum, available to its membership? Shouldn’t AFSA members learn what kind of turnouts they have every election? Wouldn’t drilling down the numbers help with voter engagement?
  • A number of Foreign Service Grievance Board cases are “settled” or withdrawn. We understand that a confidentiality clause governs these cases. But when the Department “settles” these cases, how come the redacted complaint and the terms of the settlement are not made available by AFSA to its members for analysis?
  • Do you know that Department employees who take the CIA’s polygraph examination for detail assignments will have the  results of their polygraph provided to DS and HR for security  clearance and assignment purposes?  A source told us that “In and of itself, it does no  harm if the CIA retains them for its clearance purposes, but it can  have an unanticipated negative impact when indiscriminately released  by the CIA to third parties, like DS and HR, who use them in violation of the CIA’s restrictions to the Department  and assurances to the examinees.”  If this affects only a fraction of the Foreign Service, is that an excuse not to do anything about it, or at a minimum, provide an alert to employees contemplating these detail assignments?
  • An elected AFSA representative participated in the Brussels Forum of the German Marshall Fund in 2014. An AFSA member asked this blog why? The Brussels Forum is an annual high-level meeting of the most influential North American and European political, corporate, and intellectual leaders to address pressing challenges currently facing both sides of the Atlantic. Participants include heads of state, senior officials from the European Union institutions and the member states, U.S. Cabinet officials, Congressional representatives, Parliamentarians, academics, and media. We think the “why” question is a fair and legitimate question unless non-union fees were used for this participation.  Folks, stop sending us these “why” questions here. Every elected representative at AFSA should be willing and available to answer the why questions.
  • Assignments are typically handed out a year before folks have their rotation/change of station. What’s this we’re hearing about 300 unassigned Foreign Service employees  at the end of April? What’s being done about it?

Okay, there’s an indifferent Foreign Service majority but …

Mr. Jones wrote that very few AFSA members vote in Governing Board elections … “The essential conclusion must be that AFSA members regard the effect on their lives as so ancillary and/or the consequences from AFSA efforts so ineffectual that voting was not worth the few minutes to review candidates/platforms (or the cost of postage to return the ballot).”

Or email ballot.

We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: What these elections show is that even if only 22% of the membership cast their ballots every two years, AFSA still operates as the professional association and recognized labor union of 100% of its Foreign Service members. In essence, the priorities of 1/5 of its membership, the minority who actually votes, becomes the priorities for all, including the majority who doesn’t.

Think about that. Even if a large number of members opt out by not voting, AFSA still functions on the Foreign Service’s behalf. Shouldn’t FS members at least make an effort to pick who gets to represent them?

We are paying attention to this election but for the record, we do not vote; we just sit on the wall and watch.  We do have two wishes.   There are already rumors that this could potentially be another contested election. So first, we really hope that the candidates do not go there. Following the 2009 election, the AFSA election turn out dipped dangerously down to 17%. Another contested election could potentially turn off the already small number of voters.  And if that happens, we would not blame them at all.

Second, we hope that whoever gets elected as the next Governing Board would endeavor to be more open and responsive to questions.  Even if those questions occasionally come from unusual quarters like ours.

The end.

Note: Please note that the comments section is purposely disabled for this blogpost. We hope AFSA provides an election forum for the members interested on the issues. If not, check out Strong Diplomacy and Future Forward AFSA, Ask questions. Start a discussion. Be ever present. Vote. Then get your friends to vote.


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