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he focus of this month’s


Service Journal

is “Notes to the

New Administration.” As I write,

we are all awaiting word on the

president-elect’s choice for Secretary of

State, and our Foreign Service colleagues

at USAID, and in FCS, FAS, APHIS and

BBG are similarly tuned to news of key


In short order we will introduce our-

selves to our new “S” and a host of other

new arrivals to explain who we are, what

we do and why it matters.

I want to get this right and, in doing so,

encourage the new administration to rely

heavily on us, the career professionals, to

advance American interests. Here is what I

plan to say:

Congratulations on your appointment

to lead the State Department, consis-

tently rated one of the best places in the

federal government to work. I, myself, am

a Foreign Service officer, and I hail from

the part of State’s workforce that deploys

worldwide to protect and serve America’s

people, interests and values. Like most

of my Foreign Service colleagues, I have

spent about two-thirds of my career posted

to American embassies and consulates


Like nine in 10 Americans, I support

strong American

global leader-

ship. In fact, I am

passionate about

it, absolutely

convinced that the

work we do is a

huge benefit to U.S.

interests writ large and to Americans from

all walks of life.

Like the majority of Americans, I sup-

port sharing the burden of that global

leadership. I have spent a good part of

my career persuading other countries to

pitch in and lighten the load on American


I amhonored to lead the American

Foreign Service Association, the voice of

the Foreign Service. (Almost 80 percent

of active-duty members of the Foreign

Service choose to join AFSA and stay with

us throughout their careers, andmany

remainmembers in retirement.)

As Foreign Service professionals, we

are proud of our rigorous selection process

(which whittles down some 15,000 appli-

cants each year to 375 candidates for new,

entry-level officer positions).

In the Foreign Service, you will have

a corps of career professionals who are

second to none in their grasp of how to

get things done in the near- and far-flung

places where we are deployed. And you

can count on us to call it like we see it, to

give you our best advice.

Sometimes you will love our reports

and our advice, as we chart the course for

achieving an American goal that youmight

not have thought possible, might not have

seen if you didn’t have members of the

Foreign Service on the ground, working

in the local language, searching out these

opportunities. Sometimes youmay not like

our reports and advice somuch, when we

must advise you that something just won’t

fly, when even asking would carry a heavy


We are hard-wired to give you an

unvarnished reality check. It starts with the

oath of office we take on entering the Ser-

vice—to protect and defend the Constitu-

tion. Our commitment to honest judgment

is reinforced with the annual evaluation

cycle, which requires us to demonstrate

that we can “discern when well-founded

constructive dissent is justified” and

“advocate policy alternatives.” Evaluations

matter, because we are rank-ordered each

year for promotion, and those who do not

get selected for promotion on time are

forced to separate from the Service.

As a way to remindmembers of our

duty to call it like we see it, AFSA gives

annual awards for dissent. In fact, we

are calling for award nominations now.

(For more on dissent and information on

how to nominate a colleague for an AFSA

award, please go to

Again, congratulations on your

appointment! I hope you will be proud

of the extraordinary career professionals

in the Foreign Service who stand ready to

serve on your team. Count on us and use

us fully as we support you in delivering the

global leadership Americans want and the

world needs.


Ambassador Barbara Stephenson is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.

Dear S: You Can Count on Us




I want to encourage the new administration

to rely heavily on us, the career professionals,

to advance American interests.