Posted: 11:03 am PT
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We received the following note from retired Ambassador Charles A. Ray who was the first chair of AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics (or simply ‘PEC’). Ambassador Ray previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe and Cambodia. He is also a retired U.S. Army officer who was decorated twice for his actions in combat during the Vietnam War, and later served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs. We understand that there was a brief mention in the Foreign Service Journal (Board Meeting Notes) to the effect that the PEC was not continued, but that its work products would be retained for future use. We have not been able to locate those work products on the AFSA web site even on its “professionalism and ethics” page.
We are republishing Ambassador Ray’s letter in full. You are welcome to add your thoughts in the comment section.
In your Dec. 13, 2016 post, @StateDept Launches Inaugural Leadership Day – Who’s Missing? (Updated), you end with the following question, ‘Also, hey, whatever happened to AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics?’
This is an excellent question, and one that I’m sure many of your readers would like an answer to, so if I may, I’d like to offer an answer.
Let me begin first with some background. The concept of an AFSA committee to deal with issues of professionalism and ethics began, I believe, in 2010, under the leadership of then AFSA president, Susan Johnson. The committee was officially formed in the Fall of 2012, and I, having just returned from my final overseas tour as ambassador to Zimbabwe, and retired from the Foreign Service, was asked to be the committee’s first chair.
First known as the Professionalism and Ethics Committee (PEC), it was subsequently named the Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics, but we kept the PEC acronym because it was familiar to people. The stated purpose of the committee was to enhance the professional nature and status of the Foreign Service, officers and specialists, across all the foreign affairs agencies.
One of the first things we did was conduct a survey of attitudes about ethics and professionalism. With the assistance of the Institute for Global Ethics (IGE), we focused initially on the culture of the Foreign Service. What we discovered was interesting, and somewhat disturbing. While most Foreign Service personnel consider the work we do a ‘profession,’ our survey found that very few could actually articulate just what constitutes a profession. Our analysis of the survey results showed that the Foreign Service was fragmented into ‘cones and interest groups,’ lacking a core institutional culture or identity. While many respondents could identify values essential to an effective Foreign Service, there was no common acceptance or clear understanding of what the core values of the Foreign Service institution are. In addition, whenever discussions of the Foreign Service arose, too often, they centered mainly on the Department of State, ignoring the other foreign affairs agencies to which Foreign Service personnel are assigned.
Once we recognized this, in 2013, the committee began a comprehensive survey to determine what most Foreign Service personnel thought of as core institutional values (or what the institution’s core values should be). We also requested feedback from AFSA members on a memo on management and leadership issues that the IG sent to the DG, which resulted in over fifty comments and examples from the field of unprofessional and unethical behavior at posts abroad. The results of our survey and subsequent focus groups were posted on AFSA’s web site (http://afsa.org/), but I couldn’t find them during a recent search of the site. Unfortunately, the AFSANET message summarizing the survey and our other research was not sent out to members by the AFSA Board that took office in 2013.
We also began the task of developing a draft code of professional conduct for the Foreign Service. Our aim was not to replace the extensive compliance codes that already exist in the various agencies, but to create a sense of institutional identity for Foreign Service Personnel; to develop an aspirational code of behavior focused not on what ‘not’ to do, but what we ‘ought’ to aspire to be. This was an exciting, but daunting, task that came to an end in the summer of 2016 when the current AFSA Governing Board decided that the PEC had achieved its aims and was, therefore, abolished.
The draft code of conduct, however, was not the only initiative that was pushed aside. In addition to a values-based culture as a foundation to a professional Foreign Service, we also identified the need for career-long professional education (as opposed to technical training or trade-craft), and had begun working with FSI and other organizations in that regard. One of the products of that effort was a white paper, ‘A Professional Education for a Professional Foreign Service,’ which was approved by AFSA in 2014 and shared with the QDDR Office and FSI. Another PEC initiative was the Expert Speakers Forum, which brought experienced speakers on leadership, professionalism, ethics, government effectiveness, and diplomatic art and practice to the AFSA membership.
In the summer of 2016, the PEC was asked to nominate new members, and then in a parliamentary move that was never made clear, the AFSA Governing Board decided that the PEC had reached the end of its mandate, and the committee was abolished. The explanation for this decision was never clear to me, nor do I think it was ever made clear to the membership—in fact, I think that it’s only the absence of the PEC in the list of committees on AFSA’s web site that informs the membership that the committee no longer exists. As far as I can establish, AFSA did not consult its membership about this decision, something I feel, as a member, should be done considering the interest the membership showed in the PEC and its activities.
Since it’s unlikely that AFSA will poll members about this, it might be interesting to hear what your readers have to say.
What kind of professional association does away with a committee devoted to its profession?
I am now retired after 40 years federal service in 3 Departments. State FSO for 28 years. Over 10 years experience in an OIG, only 3 of those at State.
IMHO, State is pervasively ethics-challenged. One cause is excessive deference to, and insufficient oversight of, Principal Officers. Another cause is the FS/CS divide, with the FS running amok. There is a usually-commendable slavish devotion to accomplishing mission objectives and cultivating the bilateral relationship; rules and regulations are for pettifogging green-eyeshade types. Lastly, State OIG is amateur hour, with FSOs rotating through instead of trained, experienced program analysts and auditors. Most of the rest of the Government considers oversight to be a professional specialty by itself; State OIG thinks anyone can do it, and that no one could possibly oversee the FS who hasn’t been in the FS. And, revisiting that excessive deference I started with, Inspection Teams are led by former Chiefs of Mission because it would be unseemly and ineffective for any lowlier inspector to tell a Chief of Mission how they’re doing.
Any organization or professional community which does not think about its professionalism and ethics is in essence walking away from any claim to professionalism. This AFSA action is inexplicable which is perhaps why it was not explained, but quietly done in the midnight hours. Edward Marks