The Foreign Service Journal - July/August 2014 - page 51

individuals to reach consensus on what constitutes a good set
of performance guidelines was a far more difficult task.
Most of the working group’s activity was conducted via
email for the first few months. Drafts, redrafts and comments
flew back and forth each day as the 10 of us wrestled with
our sometimes strongly diverging views, based on our unique
experiences as ambassadors.
Since many of the arguments were more about process
than substance, the outstanding drafting skills of Janice
Weiner, a recently retired FSO and AFSA staff member who
served as the working group secretary, enabled us to reconcile
our differences.
During a face-to-face meeting at AFSA headquarters in
December 2013, we formally adopted the guidelines. The
basis of the document we
forwarded to the AFSA
Governing Board for approval
drew mainly on the following
sources: the Foreign Service
Act of 1980; State Depart-
ment Office of the Inspector
General criteria on qualities
of COMs; and our individual experiences.
The four guidelines for successful performance as a COM
that we identified were:
Leadership and interpersonal skills
Understanding of high-level policy and key U.S. interests
and values in the host country
Management skills
Understanding of the host country and international
affairs, and ability to promote U.S. interests.
These four guidelines are easily understood, and can be
used to assess career and non-career nominees alike, without
regard to the background of the individual.
I continue to believe that of these four criteria, leadership
is the most critical. But after intense discussion, we came to
the consensus that all are equally important. After all, a suc-
cessful COM has to be knowledgeable about policy issues and
have the leadership skills that enable him or her to apply that
knowledge effectively.
Recognizing Reality
Our project was controversial from the beginning. In par-
ticular, some critics object to the involvement of non-career
individuals in the process.
I understand this view, given AFSA’s historically strong posi-
tion on non-career ambassadors, but still see it as misguided
in this context. While I personally believe that the vast majority
of ambassadorial positions should go to qualified, proven pro-
fessional FSOs, from the beginning of the republic presidents
have nominated people from the private sector for ambassa-
dorial positions.
An even stronger justification for at least some non-career
appointments is found in Article II, Section 2, of the Constitu-
tion of the United States, which says in part: “He shall have
Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to
make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present
concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and
Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other pub-
lic Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and
all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments
are not herein otherwise provided for...”
The members of our working group never viewed recogni-
tion of this reality as contra-
dicting AFSA’s stand in favor
of selecting career FSOs as
ambassadors. Moreover, we
believe COM positions are
far too important to ignore
the need for all appointees,
regardless of background, to
be fully qualified to successfully carry out the nation’s busi-
After giving serious consideration to those who advocated
that the COM Guidelines demand that only career diplomats
be selected for service as chief of mission, our working group
decided that we should not let the perfect become the enemy
of the good. We also remain convinced that for the document
to have any chance of acceptance by all stakeholders in the
COM nomination process, it had to be relatively simple and
universally applicable, and deal with the world as it is.
Spreading the Word
Once the AFSA Governing Board approved the document,
we shared it with senior managers in the Department of State,
the U.S. Agency for International Development and other
foreign affairs agencies. We then presented it to key members
and staffers in Congress, as well as the White House personnel
office. We also shared it with other foreign affairs organiza-
tions, such as the American Academy of Diplomacy, the Asso-
ciation of Black American Ambassadors and the Council of
American Ambassadors. The general reaction to the guidelines
from all these recipients was agreement in principle, and in
some cases strong support.
When we shared the guidelines with the media, there
followed a veritable blizzard of press coverage. This was
mostly positive, though some expressed skepticism about
how effective the guidelines would be in ensuring successful
We believe COM positions are far too
important to ignore the need for all
appointees, regardless of background,
to be fully qualified.
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