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6

MARCH 2016

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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

y

last few columns

have

focused on outreach—

AFSA’s work, as the voice of

the Foreign Service, to refine

a compelling message to convey the proud

story of the Foreign Service to the Ameri-

can people. That work continues and is

gaining momentum.

This month, I focus on our commit-

ment to work for a healthy, attractive

Foreign Service career path. I am increas-

ingly convinced that one of AFSA’s most

important roles is to serve as the principal

advocate for the long-term health of the

career Foreign Service.

The

Foreign Service Act of 1980

which begins, “The Congress finds that a

career foreign service, characterized by

excellence and professionalism, is essen-

tial in the national interest”—provides

both the legal foundation for the Foreign

Service and a stirring reminder of its

importance to the well-being of the nation

we serve.

I begin from the conviction that strong

American leadership is essential, perhaps

nowmore than ever, or at least since the

defining moments following World War

II. I believe America is the indispens-

able nation and must remain so, even as

the global landscape shifts and power

becomes more diffuse.

I believe just

as deeply that a

strong, effective

American foreign

policy rests on

the shoulders of

a strong Foreign

Service comprised of career professionals

who deploy abroad to protect and serve

American interests, often by making com-

mon cause with the people and leaders of

other countries.

This is, as I have acknowledged before,

extraordinarily demanding work. It

requires us to move at least every three

years, to cope with unhealthy and danger-

ous environments, to master foreign lan-

guages, cultures and political systems—

and to master the intricate interagency

dynamics of our own system.

This extraordinarily demanding career

requires America’s best and brightest, and

the good news is that they are still apply-

ing in droves to join the Foreign Service.

More than 17,000 people applied to take

the Foreign Service officer test last year,

competing for a shot at the fewer than

400 entry-level officer positions available.

Many Foreign Service specialist tracks are

also oversubscribed and entry is highly

competitive. We must ensure that 15 years

from now, America’s best and brightest

continue to sign up in equally high num-

bers to join the Foreign Service.

I believe that the rigorous and impartial

process by which we enter the Service is

central not only to ensuring that we attract

top talent, but also to sustaining esprit

de corps over the long haul. I know how

much strength I have drawn over the years

from knowing that I—from a rural town

in Florida, the first inmy extended family

ever to go to college—had passed the tests

andmade it into the Foreign Service.

When I talk to some of the Service’s

most respected leaders, I find I am not

alone in this. When times get tough, part

of what keeps us going is knowing that

we made it through the rigorous selection

process Congress mandated in the Foreign

Service Act. If we did not have the right

stuff, we would not have been chosen.

As AFSA president, I am committed

to protecting the Foreign Service from

anything that erodes this unique competi-

tive advantage. We want to ensure that the

Service continues to attract a large and

diverse pool of exceptionally qualified

applicants, and ensure that those who join

find a sustaining career path.

Over the coming months we will be

grappling with significant challenges

that could, if not handled with great care,

undermine the long-term attractive-

ness of the Foreign Service as a career

choice. These challenges vary from one

foreign affairs agency to another, as AFSA

vice presidents have explained in recent

columns.

As we weigh these challenges—mid-

level shortfalls at USAID and FAS, the

growing visa adjudicator gap at State—you

can count on me to use my voice to insist

that we keep the long-termwell-being of

the career Foreign Service front and center

in our deliberations. My voice will be

stronger if you join me.

n

PRESIDENT’S VIEWS

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

Protecting the Career Path

BY BARBARA STEPHENSON

M

A strong, effective American foreign policy rests

on the shoulders of a strong Foreign Service.