THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
covers theAFSA annual awards ceremony
and spotlights the 2016 award
winners. This makes for inspir-
ing reading, as we explore what our col-
leagues are doing to achieve our collective
mission. One friend now serving at the
Foreign Service Institute tells me she
scours the AFSA awards write-ups for case
studies to highlight best practices in her
The annual awards ceremony is a
great AFSA tradition, one that recognizes
excellence and courage. The AFSA awards
programmakes our profession stronger.
AFSA gives a variety of awards—one
for Lifetime Contributions to American
Diplomacy, several outstanding perfor-
mance awards and, unique in the U.S.
government, four awards for constructive
dissent—at the entry level, mid-level,
senior level and by a specialist.
This year, after the kind of spirited,
principled debate that represents AFSA
at its best, only one award for dissent
was granted.Governing Board
members agreed on
the need for better, clearer guidance on
what constitutes dissent in the Foreign
Service—beginning with how to distin-
guish between dissent and the equally
distinct, act of tak-
ing initiative and
ways to approach
We resolved to
produce a more
robust definition of dissent in time for
next year’s nomination process. This
column is meant to contribute to that
thought process and invite your input.
We in the Foreign Service deploy
worldwide—to protect and serve, yes, but
also to understand the local context and
call it like we see it. Sometimes Wash-
ington wants us to deliver something we
know is not achievable in that context.
Sometimes we know that even trying
would cause a backlash and impede
achievement of other goals.
It is our obligation to point that out, to
offer our best judgment and, when pos-
sible, alternatives (see “Foreign Service
Core Precepts,” below). This is the basis
for constructive dissent as we have tradi-tionally defined it. The State Department’s Dissent Channel is one way—the institu-
tional vehicle—to deliver that dissent (see
“The Dissent Channel,” next page).
The same obligations to speak up
apply for matters related to the manage-
ment of our own institution, not just for
classic foreign policy issues. We must all
think of ourselves as stewards of the For-
eign Service and act accordingly, working
to establish and maintain well-function-
ing embassy platforms and healthy career
paths for the next generation. Because the
Dissent Channel is restricted to “substan-
tive policy” issues, dissent on manage-
ment matters must be conducted through
The AFSA awards program recognizes
constructive dissent on management
issues as well as foreign policy issues.
This year’sRivkin Award
winner is a great
example of the former.
Lest we come across as simply
nay-sayers (as we might to interagency
Ambassador Barbara Stephenson is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.
Calling It Like We See It
BY BARBARA STEPHENSON
FOREIGN SERVICE CORE PRECEPTS
Excerpt from the Core Precepts
Decision Criteria for Tenure and Promotion in the Foreign Service
Leadership Skills/Openness to Dissent and Differing Views
Exhibits moral courage and intellectual integrity. Publicly supports
official decisions while using appropriate dissent channels in case of disagreement.
Resolves disputes using appropriate mechanisms.
Encourages frank communication with colleagues and subordinates.
Discerns when well-founded constructive dissent is justified; advocates policy
alternatives and guides staff to do the same. Recognizes employee dissent through
Encourages and expects personnel to express opinions and to use
dissent channels; accords importance to well-founded constructive dissent and
solicits, weighs, and defends its appropriate expression. Recognizes and supports