The Foreign Service Journal - April 2017
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APRIL 2017



Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA Retiree VP.


| (202) 338-4045



What Is AFSA?

What is AFSA? For the first

50 years of our existence

(AFSA was established in

1924) the answer would have

been simple.

AFSA was a professional

association designed to

enhance and broaden its

members’ capabilities as

diplomats, and to explore

the subjects with which they

engaged in their profession.

Beginning in the late

1960s that simplicity disap-

peared. President Nixon

issued an executive order

authorizing unions in the

federal workforce.

Secretary of State Bill

Rogers sought an exemption

from that executive order,

which was granted—but only

if State and its employee

organizations could agree on

a substitute employee-man-

agement system that would

be consistent with the unique

and rigorous terms of service

of Foreign Service personnel.

Executive Order 11636

establishing the employee-

management system of

the Foreign Service was the

result. That executive order

was later incorporated into

the Foreign Service Act of 1980.

These developments

generated a rigorous debate

within AFSA and, indeed,

throughout the Service.

Should AFSA compete

with established unions to

represent the Service as its

“exclusive employee repre-

sentative” (then as now a

euphemism for “union”), or

remain a professional organi-


Emotions ran high. The

sitting AFSA board held a

referendum on the matter,

and a majority voted for

the union option. The most

senior member of the AFSA

board resigned. The Service

itself was equally divided.

The 1971 AFSA election

was dominated by the union

issue. The winning slate

took the position that AFSA

should remain a professional

association and become

a union; that the two roles

were reinforcing, not mutu-

ally exclusive; and that AFSA

would benefit greatly from

the dual role.

In the event, AFSA

defeated the American Fed-

eration of Labor-Congress of

Industrial Organizations affili-

ate, the American Federation

of Government Employees,

and has been the Foreign

Service’s union for what will

soon be 50 years.

By any metric, the dual-

role concept has proved a

smashing success. In 1971,

AFSA had one full-time FSO,

a handful of other staffers,

8,000 members, a small

annual budget and a large

mortgage on the headquar-

ters building.

Today we have a full-time

president and four full-time

vice presidents. We have

official space in the agencies;

our annual budget is about

$4,500,000; our staff num-

bers 32; membership is more

than 16,000; and our balance

sheet is $14 million, of which

the value of the fully owned

HQ building is the smallest


In fact, this success has

added another dimension

to AFSA. AFSA is a busi-

ness. Like all businesses

(and unlike bureaucracies),

AFSA’s officers and board

are responsible for our own

income. We sell our services

to members who pay with

their dues. Our fiduciary

responsibilities extend to

managing the budget, the

staff and the balance sheet

of what in commercial terms

would be a mid-sized busi-


So there you have it. AFSA

has been a very successful

professional association,

union and business for

almost a century. It has

shown a capacity for rein-

venting itself to adapt to

changing circumstances.

As for the prospects going

forward, like many, I sense

that we are approaching

another tipping point. Future

success, as always, will have

to be earned.



Foreign Service retirees from all the U.S. foreign

affairs agencies are welcome to attend the State

Department’s annual homecoming event.

In addition to remarks by senior State Depart-

ment officials, Foreign Service Day also includes the

AFSAmemorial ceremony honoring FS personnel

who have died while serving abroad under circum-

stances distinctive to the Foreign Service.

There will also be two sessions of off-the-record

seminars on foreign policy issues and a luncheon.

Reservations for the luncheon ($60 per person) will be

accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. Payment

by personal check, made payable to Foreign Affairs

Day, must accompany reservation. In recent years, the

luncheon has sold out quickly, so mail in your RSVP card

and payment as soon as possible.

Retirees who haven’t attended Foreign Service Day

recently may request an invitation by emailing the

following information to


first and last names, date of birth, retirement date,

whether Civil Service or Foreign Service, U.S. foreign

affairs agency from which they retired, mailing address,

phone number and email address.