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MAY 2017


t is easy at times like this, in the midst

of a political transition that includes

proposals to cut foreign affairs fund-

ing by 30 percent and undertake a

sweeping reorganization, to overlook

the opportunity that change on this

scale presents for addressing issues that

have plagued us and undermined our


I know. As a regular speaker on

“Leading Change” in FSI courses, I have

become over the years a cheerleader

for making the most of transitions to

reexamine priorities and ask what we

could drop or cut back to make room for

new priorities. Yet even I have found the

scope and scale of the changes currently

under discussion a bit daunting, and I

fully understand if you have, too.

I suspect that writing a column like

this will invite criticism that I, as AFSA

president, should be fighting to stop

the cuts and rallying the membership

to oppose reorganization. But AFSA’s

record-high membership levels and the

response and feedback from our “struc-

tured conversations” (now in their sec-

ond year) and other communications

tell me that many members are open to

a sophisticated approach by AFSA that

draws on our core

competencies as


We have, of

course, been advo-

cating for ade-

quate funding for

the foreign affairs

budget. In this we have joined forces with

the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition,

which fights for full funding of the 150

account that covers foreign affairs, and I

have been making multiple pilgrimages

each week to speak to Hill supporters

about why this is not the time to weaken

America’s global leadership by starving

the Foreign Service of funds.

How, I ask during Hill meetings,

would we explain to voters a decision

to pull the American Foreign Service

team off the field and forfeit the game to

our adversaries? Nine in 10 Americans

favor strong American global leader-

ship, which is unthinkable without a

strong, professional Foreign Service

deployed around the world protect-

ing and defending America’s people,

interests and values. I see no signs of a

mandate to weaken American leader-

ship; rather, I see a hunger for American

diplomacy to deliver wins.

How then do we, the professional

career Foreign Service, work to ensure

that we are fielding a diplomatic team

capable of delivering the wins the

American people want? We need to

field a Foreign Service team trained,

equipped, resourced and structured to

play at the top of its game.

I propose that we seize the oppor-

tunities presented by this transition to

make the Foreign Service stronger as

a key instrument of American global

leadership. For starters:

Let’s recast the conversation on


As I argued in the March FSJ

, to

lead, we must be present; and to be

present, we must effectively manage the

risks that are inherent in our deploy-

ment to 270 posts around the world,

most of them in difficult environments,

and many in dangerous ones.

An effective risk management policy

does not guarantee that everyone

comes home safe and sound. It means

we manage risk smartly, according to

established best practices, to weigh and

document risk-benefit trade-offs in the

decisions we make as we go about our

priority work advancing America’s inter-

ests abroad.

In his interview with me during our


“Continuing the Conversation”

series, former Diplomatic Security

Assistant Secretary Greg Starr talked to a

packed house at AFSA about taking the

next steps to adopt a comprehensive

risk management framework at State.

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

Seizing Transition Opportunities




We need to field a Foreign Service team trained,

equipped, resourced and structured to play

at the top of its game.