Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Where is AFSA?

The separation and division of powers between the three branches of the American government plays an important theoretical role in preventing any branch from abusing its powers.  As part of this division, senior officials of government, including members of the diplomatic service, are nominated and appointed by the president, “by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.”
The responsibility of the Senate to advise the President on these appointments, and, if the Senate finds nominees unqualified, to turn them down, rests with the elected Senators, and assumes that the Senators themselves will review nominations and take timely actions to approve them or return them to the White House. 

In the real world, we all know that Senators, like everyone else, have staff who perform the research and basic analysis, and put together “packages” for the Senators to vote on. But even in a world where “staffers” do most of the work, the ultimate responsibility to advise the president, according to our constitution, lies with the individuals defined in article one, section three, of the Constitution, i.e. the elected Senators. 

That has not been happening in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Not, at least, with regard to the routine nominations of Foreign Service members for non-ambassadorial positions. Not, in other words, with respect to the vast majority of our colleagues.

During the past two years, thousands of Foreign Service nominations have been held up by the unelected staff of a single SFRC member, without being allowed to go forward for a vote by the elected officials empowered by the United States Constitution to review them.   Last year, over a thousand names of our Foreign Service colleagues were returned to the White House without having been considered by elected members of the Senate. This year, again, nearly a thousand Foreign Service nominations will be returned to the White House or retained in committee under similar circumstances.

This is not without meaning. Putting aside the constitutional questions associated with preventing the elected members of the Senate from performing their constitutionally mandated roles, there is a direct consequence to the ability of the affected Foreign Service employees to perform their jobs.

Hundreds of Consular Officers are, technically speaking, unable to be fully accredited to the countries to which they are assigned, because their commissions have not been attested to. Hundreds of other Foreign Service members responsible for managing and safeguarding government resources are similarly operating without the commissions which technically grant them authority to do so. These FS members are doing their jobs without commissions, on the expectation that the Senate will one day confirm them.  The alternative would be to halt overseas operations, including services to American citizens overseas, until the nominations were confirmed. 

This is an astounding assault on our Service. And the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) has remained silent.

Last year, when efforts by State Department officials unblocked some 1700 nominations that had built up under these circumstances, AFSA suddenly and inexplicably took credit. But where is the evidence of AFSA's efforts? 

Why has AFSA been silent on the humiliating document introduced in August 2014, not required of employees of any other agency of government, but now required of all FS members facing Senate confirmation?  

And more importantly, what is AFSA doing now to address a situation that has continued unchanged since that time?

Yes, AFSA, with its newly rediscovered “all Ambassadors all the time” throwback-to-the-bad-old-days focus, has been vociferously denouncing political Ambassador nominations, and yes, AFSA has been commendably urging its members to write to their Senators in support of well deserving career Ambassador nominees; but what, exactly, has AFSA done to address the hundreds of ordinary FS nominations that have been denied a place on the Senate calendar because a staffer wants to keep them on hold?

Where is AFSA's statement of support, or better yet, letter to the Senate, for  the hundreds of our colleagues who are not ambassadors, but whose services are vital to the Foreign Service mission, and who are, after all, AFSA members?