Ring in 2017 By Gutting the Ethics Office: Here and There

Posted: 1:01 pm ET
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Last night, House Republicans voted quietly to gut their own independent ethics watchdog, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). House Republicans adopted a proposal by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to put the Office of Congressional Ethics under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee. According to Politico, under the Goodlatte proposal, the OCE would be renamed the “Office of Congressional Complaint Review,” citing a summary of the House rules amendment obtained by POLITICO. It “places the office under the oversight of the Committee on Ethics.”  The provision would “provide protection against disclosures to the public or other government entities,” essentially sealing accusations against lawmakers. Currently those investigations are made public several months after the OCE refers the matter to the Ethics panel.  After an uproar, House Republican leaders have now reportedly pulled the Goodlatte amendment on OCE changes and the ethics office rules won’t change.

A related item —

Last month we asked what happened to AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics?  Retired Ambassador Charles A. Ray who was the first chair of AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics (‘PEC’) offered an answer. It looks like eliminating the PEC was also quietly done.

After we published the blogpost, one of our readers pointed us to a “Professionalism in the U.S. Government” talk with Dr. Don Snider posted on YouTube.  On May 29, 2014, AFSA welcomed Dr. Don Snider of the Strategic Studies Institute to AFSA headquarters to discuss “Professionalism in the U.S. Government”. Dr. Snider used his experiences and expertise as a widely respected scholar and speaker on issues of professionalism writ large, to pose the question of how systems of professionalism affect the U.S. government and whether the Foreign Service might be able to learn some lessons on this subject from the U.S. Army. Have a look.

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Whatever happened to AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics?

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.

 

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Amb. Charles Ray: America Needs a Professional Foreign Service (via FSJ)

Posted: 12:18 am EDT
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Charles A. Ray retired from the Foreign Service in 2012 after a 30-year career that included ambassadorships to Cambodia and Zimbabwe. Ambassador Ray also served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for prisoners of war/missing personnel affairs, deputy chief of mission in Freetown and consul general in Ho Chi Minh City, among many other assignments. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Amb. Ray spent 20 years in the U.S. Army. He was the first chair of AFSA’s Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics, and does freelance writing and speaking. He blogs at http://charlesaray.blogspot.com; his Amazon author page is here. Below is an excerpt from FSJ:

Via Speaking Out, Foreign Service Journal, July/August 2015:

If the Foreign Service is to adequately serve the American people now and in the future, it is imperative that it become the professional service intended by legislation over the past 91 years. This is not an easy task. It requires political will from elected leadership to provide the necessary direction and resources. It also requires action on the part of every member of the Foreign Service.

Here are some of the actions I believe are necessary.

Establish a system of professional education for the Foreign Service. Develop a long-term academic training program in diplomacy—either at the Foreign Service Institute or through a cooperative agreement with a university or universities in the Washington, D.C., area—designed to prepare members of the Foreign Service for senior diplomatic responsibilities.

There should be training opportunities post-tenuring and at the mid-level designed to increase individual skills in primary career tracks, while also offering education in diplomacy and leadership.

Every member of the Foreign Service should be required to complete a year of academic study relevant to his or her career track before being eligible for promotion to the Senior Foreign Service.

The department should create a true “training float” of 10 to 15 percent above the level required to staff all authorized positions, to allow Foreign Service personnel to take long-term training without posts and bureaus having to suffer long gaps. This will require a commitment by the department’s leadership not to use these positions to meet future manpower requirements—a practice that consumed the two previous authorizations.

Ensure opportunities for professional development through assignments. In coordination with the White House, the department should ensure that an adequate number of senior positions (assistant secretary, ambassador, deputy assistant secretary, etc.) are designated to be filled by Foreign Service personnel.

Priority should also be given to assignment of Foreign Service personnel to lower-level positions, such as regional office directors and desk officers, as much as possible.

Reconcile the differences between Foreign Service and Civil Service personnel systems. The department must recognize that while both are essential to the success of our mission, the Foreign Service and Civil Service personnel systems are inherently different.

Attempts to obliterate the differences benefit neither, and do not contribute to national security in any meaningful way. Action needs to be taken to improve career prospects within both systems.

Consideration should be given to creating a position of Director of Human Resources responsible for Civil Service personnel, and having the Director General of the Foreign Service responsible only for Foreign Service personnel, as envisioned by the 1946 Act that created the position.

In addition, the Director General should be given more authority over discipline and career development of Foreign Service personnel.

Establish a formal code of ethics for the Foreign Service. An essential element of any career personnel system is a mechanism to provide basic standards and rules and to protect it from political abuse.

The American Foreign Service Association established a Committee on the Foreign Service Profession and Ethics in 2012 with the primary mission to develop such a code. I had the honor of being the first chair of the PEC and am happy to report that significant progress has been made on this during the past three years.

Working with the Institute of Global Ethics, the PEC conducted a worldwide survey of Foreign Service personnel and then began creating a draft code. Information on the PEC’s work can be found on AFSA’s website at www.afsa.org/ethics. Details on the results of the survey on professionalism and ethics can be found at www.bit.ly/1L1LoJq.

Read in full here.

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