Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch Retires From the Foreign Service After 34 Years of Service

Updated: 3:54 pm PST with correction on Amb. Yovanovitch’s promotion to Career Minister in 2016.

Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine who was one of the top witnesses in the Trump Impeachment hearings reportedly retired from the State Department.  Ambassador Yovanovitch served 34 years in the U.S. Foreign Service.  She previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Armenia (2008-2011) under President Obama and to the Kyrgyz Republic (2005-2008) under President George W. Bush.
Based on her online bio, Ambassador Yovanovitch is 61 years old, which is four years short of the mandatory retirement in the U.S. Foreign Service. (Foreign Service employees are eligible to retire at age 50 with 20 years of service).
Ambassador Yovanovitch was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service Class of Minister-Counselor in 2007. She was ranked Minister-Counselor during her last two appointments as Ambassador to Armenia in 2008 and as Ambassador to Ukraine in 2016. The maximum time-in-class (TIC) limits for Minister-Counselor is “14 years combined TIC with no more than seven years in the class of Counselor.” We don’t have public details beyond what is on congress.gov and the FAM, but it looks like she has not reach her maximum TIC in 2020. It is also likely that she was eligible for promotion to Career Minister prior to her retirement. Correction: Amb. Yovanovitch was promoted to Career Minister in 2016 (thanks B!)
So why would she retire? Perhaps she got exhausted by all the controversy. Or perhaps she simply realized that, given her rank, she could not find a warm home in Pompeo’s State Department nor is she going to get another presidential appointment under this Administration.  Having been yanked out of one assignment without an onward assignment, with a huge WH target on her back, we’ve always suspected that she would not be able to return to Foggy Bottom or get another overseas assignment.
Per 3 FAM 6215 career members of the Foreign Service who have completed Presidential assignments under section 302(b) of the Foreign Service Act, and who have not been reassigned within 90 days after the termination of such assignment, plus any period of authorized leave, shall be retired as provided in section 813 of the Act. 
Ambassador Yovanovitch was detailed to a university for a year. As a career member of the Foreign Service,  she was recalled from an assignment but wasn’t fired after her posting at the US Embassy in Kyiv. In reality, her career ended in Kyiv. Without that university assignment, it’s likely that she would have been subjected to the 90-day rule and be forced into mandatory retirement last summer.
In any case, that university assignment would have ran out this spring but in May 2019, it allowed the State Department to pretend that this was a normal job rotation. For the State Department, it also avoided one spectacle: given that the recall quickly became very high profile and political, they would have had to explain her mandatory retirement in Summer 2019 following the conclusion of her presidential appointment without an onward assignment.
Her case underscores some realities of the Foreign Service that folks will continue to wrestle with for a long time. How breathtakingly easy it was for motivated bad actors to whisper in powerful, receptive ears and ruin a 34-year career. You may have thought that Administration officials could not possibly have believed the whispers, that over three decades of dedicated service meant something, but believed them they did. Since this happened to her, how easily could it happen to anyone, at any post, at any given country around the world? Then to realize how thin the protection afforded career employees, and how easily the system adapts to the political demands of the day.
Note that in the Foreign Service, retirements may be either voluntary or involuntary. According to State, involuntary retirements include those due to reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65 (except DS special agents where the mandatory retirement age is 57), which cannot be waived unless an employee is serving in a Presidential appointment, or if the Director General of the Foreign Service determines that the employee’s retention in active duty is in the “public interest”; and those who trigger the “up-or-out” rules in the FS personnel system (e.g., restrictions in the number of years FS employees can remain in one class or below the Senior Foreign Service threshold).
Voluntary non-retirements include resignations, transfers, and deaths. Involuntary non-retirements consist of terminations, as well as “selection out” of tenured employees and non-tenured decisions for entry level FS employees.
Between FY 2018 and FY 2022, the Department projected that close to 5,900 career CS and FS employees will leave the Department due to various types of attrition.  Most FS attrition reportedly is due to retirements. In FY 2017, 70 percent of all separations from the FS were retirements. For the FY 2018 to FY 2022 period, the attrition mix is expected to be 80 percent retirements and 20 percent non-retirements.

 

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