Page 46 - Foreign Service Journal - April 2013

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APRIL 2013
A Jury of Our Peers
Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP.
For as long as people have been thinking about the behavior
of other people, they have shared a single common view: “If
you behave like me, you are good. If you behave diferently,
you are bad.” This works well as a determinant of normalcy in
a homogeneous society or organization, but quickly breaks
down as a group becomes diverse.
As early as the Middle Ages, a jury of one’s peers solved the
problem. A peer is someone like you in as many respects as
is practical, and presumably shares, or can at least under-
stand, your own point of view. The value of the opinions of
one’s peers is recognized not only in our legal system, but
also in academia, the arts and, indeed, our own profession of
diplomacy. It forms, for example, the underlying basis for the
promotion and tenure boards,
which review the performance
of Foreign Service members
and weigh them against both
absolute standards and each
other. Having personally
observed numerous aspects of that process, I can attest that
it works well in the vast majority of cases.
The adjudicators in security clearance and discipline cases,
and the Ofce of the Inspector General investigators, are not
Foreign Service members. Many investigators and deciding
ofcials difer substantially from the Foreign Service employ-
ees they are reviewing in terms of age, background, experi-
ence, philosophy, cultural exposure and outlook. In my opinion
(and AFSA’s perception), this has contributed to a small but
signifcant number of problems.
When employees perceive the process as unfair, they not
only mistrust the fndings but become reluctant to cooperate
with these ofces. This also has the efect of stifing initiative
and innovation, since deviation from a narrow norm could
subject the employee to punishment.
The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review
report urges FS members to take calculated risks in order
to advance the State Department’s mission. However, we
need assurances that risk-taking will not be interpreted as
malfeasance. That requires that those doing the interpreting
understand fully what we do.
Peer perspective is especially important in issues of
judgment, morality and personal conduct. We have seen a
dramatic increase in instances of “morality police” cases,
ascribing improper or even criminal intent to private actions
by employees and family members. There are some actions
that are universally recognized as wrong, imprudent or illegal
by most Americans. But increasingly, we are seeing not only
consensual sexual relationships being described as disgrace-
ful, but even cases in which parenting styles are challenged.
Few areas of conduct are more subjective than sexual rela-
tionships. The propriety of otherwise identical scenarios will
vary greatly with the circumstances, intentions, beliefs, status
and identities of those involved.
So will parenting styles, especially as many FS members
have foreign-born spouses or partners. Parents who bathe
with their preschool-age children, or allow their toddler to
sleep with them, or kiss their 7-year-old child goodbye with
a quick peck on the lips, are not perverts or pedophiles, but
merely have diferent parental styles than do the investigat-
ing agents. Those with a broader view than just law enforce-
ment should review allegations
involving such personal issues.
We think it important that
a number of practices, many
already enshrined in the For-
eign Afairs Manual, be rigidly
adhered to and enforced:
• Investigators should objectively gather the facts, not just
with an eye towards supporting a criminal indictment or
disciplinary case, but solely with an eye towards creating the
fullest picture possible of the issue or event. Investigative
reports should never include the investigator's opinions or
• There should be absolute separation between the adjudica-
tors or deciders of a case and the investigators. Those who
make a decision should have no investment in the investiga-
tion itself, nor should the investigator have any input—beyond
objectively gathered facts—into the process.
• At the earliest possible moment, before a decision is
made, the fndings should be reviewed and analyzed by people
who are the peers of those being reviewed, and the opinions
of those peers given weight in any assessment. The Bureau of
Diplomatic Security, the Ofce of Human Resources and the
Ofce of the Inspector General should all create and use advi-
sory groups, drawn from FS members in their own ranks, as
well as other FS members, to regularly review cases or issues
where perspectives might vary in a diverse society.
• DS and OIG should endeavor to staf adjudicative func-
tions with employees from diverse backgrounds and disci-
plines, and establish procedures for group review of cases.
In ofces where decisions routinely require assessments of
personal behavior or judgment, the ofce staf involved in the
case should represent a diverse range of perspectives and
Peer perspective is especially important in
issues of judgment, morality and personal