The Foreign Service Journal - September 2016
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partners whose leadership principles do

not embrace dissent as fully as ours), let

me note that we routinely add as much

value pointing out what


work as we

do pointing out what



We who typically understand the local

context better than anyone else in the U.S.

government are often the first to see that

a long-shot goal might just be achievable

if we frame the arguments a certain way,

avoid that third rail, garner support from

this key group while not alerting another

too early.

Delivering on those long-shot goals

may show incredible, even unusual,

initiative and innovation. It may be out-

standing performance, but it’s not dissent.

The Foreign Service adds tremendous

value every time we advise with preci-

sion about what will work and what won’t

work in the local context at our posts.

This is a core role of the Foreign Service,

and it is often the basis for well-founded

constructive dissent.

There is something else to consider.

When AFSA gives only one award for

dissent, a question naturally arises: Is the

space for constructive dissent closing?

This is both a fair question and a power-

ful, foundational one, given our role in the

interagency “ecosystem.”

Pointing out that something Washing-

ton wants just won’t fly requires cour-

age and often risks repercussions. The



for doing the right thing,

for engaging in constructive dissent, rises,

I am convinced, when we feel insecure in

our careers.

When, for example, mid-level officers

need to worry about there being more

bidders than jobs, or when senior officers

see their career paths blocked by appoin-

tees from outside the Foreign Service, we

shouldn’t be surprised if dissent declines.

Our dissent awards honor those who

stand up and call it like they see it. We all

need to defend the space for constructive

dissent, which is, in my view, inextricably

intertwined with defending a strong, pro-

fessional career Foreign Service.



Excerpt from

2 FAM 070 Dissent Channel


2 FAM 071.1 Policy Statement


It is Department of State policy that all U.S. citizen

employees, foreign and domestic, be able to express dis-

senting or alternative views on substantive issues of policy,

in a manner which ensures serious, high-level review and



The State Department has a strong interest in facilitat-

ing open, creative, and uncensored dialogue on substantive

foreign policy issues within the professional foreign affairs

community, and a responsibility to foster an atmosphere

supportive of such dialogue, including the opportunity

to offer alternative or dissenting opinions without fear of

penalty. The Dissent Channel was created to allow its users

the opportunity to bring dissenting or alternative views on

substantive foreign policy issues, when such views can-

not be communicated in a full and timely manner through

regular operating channels or procedures, to the attention

of the Secretary of State and other senior State Department

officials in a manner which protects the author from any

penalty, reprisal, or recrimination.


Freedom from reprisal for Dissent Channel users

is strictly enforced; officers or employees found to have

engaged in retaliation or reprisal against Dissent Channel

users, or to have divulged to unauthorized personnel the

source or contents of Dissent Channel messages, will be

subject to disciplinary action. Dissent Channel messages,

including the identity of the authors, are a most sensitive

element in the internal deliberative process and are to be

protected accordingly.

2 FAM 071.2 Scope

The Dissent Channel is reserved for consideration of

dissenting or alternative views on substantive foreign policy

matters. The Dissent Channel may not be used to address

non-policy issues (e.g., management or personnel issues

that are not significantly related to substantive matters

of policy). Complaints relating to violation of law, rules, or

regulations; mismanagement; or fraud, waste, or abuse may

be addressed to OIG/INV. Classification challenges should

not be addressed through the Dissent Channel.

The Foreign Service adds tremendous value

every time we advise with precision about what

will work, and what won’t work, in the local

context at our posts.