Foreign Service Journal - June 2013 - page 24

24
JUNE 2013
|
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
FSOs have “street cred” with Congress
as the professionals who carry out
U.S. overseas policies and programs.
Here are tips for maximizing that entrée.
BY BETTE COOK
CONGRESSIONAL RELATIONS:
BENEFITS AND
PITFALLS
T
he U.S. Air Force plane touched down
on the runway, quickly offloaded its
passengers and cargo through the
rear exit, and took off. Watching it
fly away, I realized: We’re alone in a
dangerous conflict zone!
The cargo consisted of bags of
food labeled “USAID FROM THE
AMERICAN PEOPLE.” And we pas-
sengers were part of a bipartisan congressional delegation the
leadership of the House of Representatives had dispatched to
Somalia to see the crisis firsthand.
Two U.S. Agency for International Development officials
were accompanying the delegation: a Foreign Service officer
who had previously been mission director in Mogadishu and
now directed the U.S. humanitarian relief effort, and me, a
congressional liaison officer. For security reasons, the delega-
tion had split into two groups bound for separate locations,
Baidoa and Mogadishu.
It was November 1992. A civil war that had been raging
among clan-based warlords ever since the collapse of the
military government the previous year was still in full swing.
Displaced by the chaos, hundreds of thousands of people were
Bette Cook joined the International Cooperation Administration,
a predecessor of the U.S. Agency for International Development, in
1959. Her 42-year federal government career spanned the Foreign Ser-
vice (Tunisia and Vietnam) and the Civil Service (the bureaus respon-
sible for Vietnam, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Legislative
and Public Affairs). Among other responsibilities, Ms. Cook man-
aged the preparation and submission to Congress of USAID’s budget
request for 23 years, and maintained a continuous flow of informa-
tion to Capitol Hill on the agency’s development and humanitarian
assistance programs.
After a brief retirement, Ms. Cook rejoined USAID in 2008 for
another four years as a consultant for strategic communications with
Congress. She is now a Red Cross volunteer at the Fort Belvoir, Va.,
hospital that provides medical care to the nation’s wounded warriors,
service members and their families.
starving to death. The international aid agencies were sub-
ject to looting and extortion by militants driving “technicals,”
vehicles mounted with machine guns and other weapons.
The aid agencies’ local staff rapidly completed the loading
of cargo and passengers, and we sped away to the compound
of a U.S. private voluntary organization. There we met with
relief workers and visited a couple of distribution centers to
FOCUS
ON WORKING WITH CONGRESS
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