AFSA’s 2011 Constructive Dissent Awards – No Winner for Entry-Level Diplomats

Image via WikipediaAFSA’s constructive dissent awards publicly recognize individuals who have demonstrated the intellectual courage to challenge the system from within, to question the status quo and take a stand, no matter the sensitivity of the issue or the consequences of their actions. According to the FS union, the issue does not have to be related to foreign policy. It can relate to a management issue, consular policy, or, in the case of the newest award, the willingness of a Foreign Service Specialist “to take an unpopular stand, to go out on a limb, or to stick his/her neck out in a way that involves some risk.”

“Within the foreign affairs agency system, the term “constructive dissent” is used to describe cables passed through the official dissent channel which object to or proscribe amendments to official U.S. foreign policy or regarding conditions of work. Recent examples of such dissent include a USAID officer at AFRICOM who protested the military’s approach to sexual and gender-based violence treatment in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and a security engineering officer who persuaded the State Department to issue commissioning certificates for FS specialists. Excluded from AFSA’s definiton of constructive dissent are objections raised outside the system, i.e. airing policy disagreements in the media or blogs.”

The winners via AFSA:  

This year’s winner of the F. Allen “Tex” Harris Award for constructive dissent by a Foreign Service Specialist is Maurizio Visani, an FS-3 Department of State Information Program Officer serving in Consulate General Surabaya.  By performing a security assessment, he enabled consular agents in Bali to obtain OpenNet access, thereby enabling them to provide sound technical solutions to protect American Personally Identifiable Information (PII) more securely.   It was through his initiative that Bali became the first consular agency to receive OpenNet access.

The winner of the 2011 William R. Rivkin Award for constructive dissent by a mid-level Foreign Service officer is Joel Ehrendreich, an FS-1 Department of State political officer in Singapore.  While serving in Tokyo in 2005 he was asked to decline an invitation, on behalf of the embassy, from the mayor of Hiroshima to send a representative of the U.S. government to attend the annual Peace Memorial Ceremony.  He recommended changing the policy and accepting the invitation.  It took five years, with Joel resubmitting his dissent each year, to change this policy, but in 2010 Ambassador John V. Roos attended the ceremony, a gesture that has helped to strengthen bilateral relations.

The Christian A. Herter Award, for constructive dissent by a Senior Foreign Service officer, this year goes to Dr. James W. Bayuk. The nominating officer for Dr. Bayuk describes him as a medical officer who, “seeks to improve the medical services offered to his colleagues wherever he serves.”  Over the course of his career, he has proposed several institutional changes to improve both the efficiency and quality of medical services. Some of his proposals have been controversial, and not all have been implemented.  He has challenged prevailing wisdom in several areas related to the provision of services, and has called for greater transparency in the selection of key leadership positions in the Office of Medical Services.  In those cases where he has been successful, the results have been tangible. In 2006, he was awarded the Department’s Award for Innovative Use of Technology for his work on linking post-specific medical information to the Overseas Briefing Center. 

The AFSA Awards and Plaques Committee selected the Harris and Herter Award winners.  (There was no winner this year of the W. Averell Harriman Award for constructive dissent by an entry-level Foreign Service officer.)   Committee members include: Retired Ambassador John Limbert, chairman; active-duty Foreign Service employees Francisco Zamora, John Naland, Ernesto Pizarro and Eva Groening; and retired FS employees Janice Bay, John Long, Ambassador Edward Peck and Dick Thompson.

The William R. Rivkin Award winner was selected by a panel including the children of the late Ambassador William R. Rivkin — Julia Wheeler, Laura Ledford, Ambassador Charles Rivkin and the Honorable Robert Rivkin – joined by retired Ambassador Thomas Boyatt, who worked with Ambassador Rivkin; the Honorable Newton N. Minow; Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and former Representative Jim Leach, R-Iowa.

I should note that this is the third time since 2007 where there is no winner for the W. Averell Harriman Award for constructive dissent by an entry-level Foreign Service officer. 

I am disappointed — but of course, it’s not my career on the line.

I have to wonder out loud why the elephants in the room are conspicuously absent as constructive dissent subjects – subjects related to policies and management practices in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan (AIP); policies related to personnel security in Mexico undergoing a full blown drug war, though of course, we don’t call it a war; policies related to post drawdowns/evacuations, how soon, how fast, how much politics get into the what, when and how; the quality of pre-deployment training for personnel heading off to AIP posts I heard is crash bang but also shit bang.  And the soc-med policy, of course …

Good luck for next year!