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the Foreign Service journal
April 2013
shall provide the Committee on Foreign Relations of the
Senate, with each nomination for an appointment as a chief
of mission, a report on the demonstrated competence of the
nominee,” the Bush 41 White House staf made the mistake
of sending identical boilerplate nominations for the ambas-
sadors to Australia and Spain. Senator Paul Sarbanes, D-Md.,
picked up on this, and AFSA went to court to have all the
nominations made public. Tat release revealed just how
careless and cavalier the nomination process had become; for
instance, the nominee for Guatemala was expected to be a fne
ambassador to Venezuela.
Te Senate Foreign Relations Committee at least debated
some of the nominees’ qualifcations, and split on party lines
in reporting them to the Senate foor. But in the end the Demo-
cratic opposition abandoned principle to go along with “the
system,” and the candidates were approved by large majorities.
Only one, a New York donor with more social than profes-
sional qualifcations, fell by the wayside—and only because she
Fight the Good Fight
By Ted Wilkinson
FSA’s becoming a union 40 years ago reinforced one of
the Governing Board’s primary duties: maximizing the
professionalism of the American diplomatic service. A
large part of that efort is the constant struggle to keep chief-of-
mission and agency leadership positions in the hands of career
Foreign Service ofcers. As current AFSA President Susan John-
son and others have documented, there is an accelerating trend
away from assigning career Foreign Service ofcers to top-tier
State Department jobs—even as the number of such positions
Te job of defending the Foreign Service against non-career
incursions should be a lot easier than it is. After all, the legisla-
tive and executive branches of our government are already on
our side, at least in principle. Congress bestowed on us a benign
governing statute, the Foreign Service Act of 1980, which states
that “positions as chief of mission should normally be accorded
to career members of the Service,” and “contributions to politi-
cal campaigns should not be a factor in the appointment.” In
response to questions during his campaign about awarding
ambassadorships to donors, President Barack Obama sounded
as though he had actually read the statute and agreed with it.
Alas, the president’s frst term proved that little has changed.
Nor is there any reason to hope for signifcant improvement dur-
ing his second.
Te dreary rollout of donor nominations that followed Pres.
Obama’s inauguration four years ago was all too reminiscent of
President George H.W. Bush’s frst two years, when I served as
AFSA president. Some of us had hoped that Bush’s own diplo-
matic experience and military service would lead him to place
a premium on professionalism. Sadly, an inept White House
appointments staf shufed donor rolodexes instead, sending a
stream of scarcely vetted nominations to Capitol Hill.
Ignoring the 1980 statute’s provision that “the president
“AFSA should continue to fght the good fght for the appointment of
truly qualifed individuals to key positions, both overseas and in Washington itself.
After all, Congress itself set that standard in the Foreign Service Act of 1980.”
—Ted Wilkinson (AFSA President, 1989-1991)
Psst! Hey, Buddy, Wanna
Buy an Ambassadorship?