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with the department’s legal advisor, and continued to raise it

during the following three years. Cecilia Choi took the baton in

2012, working with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to try to

come to a fair solution. In 2013,

The Washington Post


an article on the subject, “At the State Department, Diversity Can Count Against You,” highlighting the perspectives of seve


Foreign Service officers.

In 2015, Thomas Wong presented a white paper to then-

Deputy Secretaries of State Antony Blinken and Heather Hig-

ginbottom, requesting the establishment of an independent and

timely appeal mechanism. Along with then-AFSA Vice President

Matthew Asada, he organized an event featuring panel speakers

from DS and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commis-

sion to discuss the issue

directly with department


Assuming the AAFAA

presidency in 2016, Chris-

tina Le continued to raise

assignment restrictions

with Deputy Secretary Hig-

ginbottom throughout the

summer of 2016, asking

her to press DS to establish

language in the Foreign Affairs Manual. Ms. Le raised the topic

with AFSA President Ambassador Barbara Stephenson and

met with AFSA Vice President Angie Bryan on multiple occa-

sions to discuss AAFAA members’ concerns. AFSA was a strong

supporter of AAFAA’s request, and played an integral role in the

negotiations with DS to ensure the language for the FAM is fair

and reflects the interests of AAFAA.

In October 2016 President Barack Obama released a presi-

dential memorandum, “Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in

the National Security Workforce.” In particular, Section 2(c) cov-

ers the need for all national security agencies, among them the

Department of State, to institute a review process for security

and counterintelligence determinations that result in assign-

ment restrictions. Section 3(c) makes “unconscious bias train-

ing mandatory for senior leadership and management posi-

tions, as well as for those responsible for outreach, recruitment,

hiring, career development, promotion and

security clearance


” (italics added).

A Way Forward

Finally, at the end of 2016, the State Department published

new assignment restrictions guidelines in the Foreign Affairs

Manual. 12 FAM 233.5 addresses the reforms we requested:

notification to employees of the factual grounds for their

assignment restriction; the opportunity to request a second

review of the decision by the director of the Bureau of Diplo-

matic Security (principal deputy assistant secretary of State

for DS/DSS) and submit updated information for reconsidera-

tion; and empowerment of the director to reverse improperly

imposed assignment restrictions.

The new FAM language is a welcome step toward establish-

ing the transparency, fairness and accountability on which

the State Department prides itself. Ultimately the new process

should allow the department to fully deploy its most valu-

able resource—its people—to places where U.S. interests will

best be advanced. We are

proud that our dissent led

to this important change

in department policy and

applaud the department

for its efforts to provide

more oversight and trans-

parency in the assignment

restrictions process.

We are tremendously

grateful to former Deputy

Secretaries Blinken and Higginbottom; our past and present

leadership liaisons, Legal Advisor Harold Koh and Ambas-

sadors Hans Klemm and Alexander Arvizu; AFSA; and DS for

their leadership and advocacy. This newly articulated process,

which includes the opportunity to provide additional relevant

information, will benefit not only AAFAA members but all

State employees.

The new process will create a more transparent and equi-

table environment for those affected by assignment restric-

tions. Thanks go to some two dozen employees for their moral

courage in coming forward, both publicly and privately, and

sharing their personal stories with us, enabling us to frame our

advocacy on the issue. We also thank all AAFAA members who

have been involved in this process over the years, including

former AFSA Vice President Matthew Asada, for their sup-

port, hard work and resolute efforts to effect positive change,

all while working within a bureaucratic system that was often

inflexible and unyielding.

As a group, we tested the system, stood firm, offered a con-

structive way forward and, in the end, made a lasting, positive

impact on the State Department and its workforce.


We pushed this issue forward

despite concerns about

possible detriment to our

own professional career