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April 2013
the foreign Service journal
AFSA’s 2003 victory in securing an exemption for the Foreign
Service from a new tax on the sale of a primary residence.
Congress had earlier changed the law to excuse most home
sellers from paying capital gains tax—as long as they had
lived in the house for two of the five most recent years. That,
of course, disadvantaged Foreign Service members who serve
After State declined to add the issue to its legislative
agenda, AFSA took it on. Working with lobbying groups for
the military (which was similarly affected), AFSA succeeded
in getting the tax code amended. As a result, a decade later
many Foreign Service members continue to save tens of thou-
sands of dollars when selling their houses.
AFSA’s victories on issues such as the overseas pay gap and
capital gains taxes obviously provided pocketbook benefits to
individual members. But they also protected the long-term
health of the Foreign Service as a whole, by removing poten-
tial disincentives to overseas service.
Thus, AFSA’s long history of advocating for the interests of
the Foreign Service is not the record of a stereotypical union
defending its turf, but rather the mark of a professional asso-
ciation seeking to strengthen American diplomacy.
AFSA must continue to play this role in the future. As we
look ahead to the 100th anniversary of the creation of the
Foreign Service by the Rogers Act of 1924, it is fair to ask
whether our personnel system (last updated during the Carter
presidency) is optimally configured for diplomacy in the 21st
As it did a generation ago, in contributing to the drafting of
the Foreign Service Act of 1980, it would be wiser for AFSA to
take the lead in reform efforts than to leave it to others—well-
intentioned or not—to chart the future of our profession.
John K. Naland was AFSA president from 2001 to 2003 and from
2007 to 2009. He is currently director of the Office of Retirement at
the Department of State.
Association for Diplomatic
Study and Training (ADST)
Got an interesting story to tell?
Want to read one?
Association for
Diplomatic Studies
and Training
is a non-gov-
ernmental, nonproft organi-
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Department’s Foreign Service
Institute. Founded in 1986,
ADST advances understand-
ing of American diplomacy and
supports training of foreign
affairs personnel. We sponsor a publishing program and
our collection of more than 1800 oral history interviews
includes such fascinating interviewees as Prudence
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Excerpts from the collection highlight the monumental,
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They refect the reality of diplomacy, warts and all, mak-
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“As we look ahead to the 100th
anniversary of the creation of the
Foreign Service by the Rogers Act
of 1924, it is fair to ask whether our
personnel system is optimally confgured
for diplomacy in the 21st century.”
—John K. Naland (AFSA President, 2001-2003 and 2007-2009)