Foreign Service Pros Threaten to Sue Over Ambassadors’ Competence

Mar 5, 2014 6:09pm

Professional foreign service officials haven’t been thrilled with the caliber of nominees for ambassadorships lately and it’s now threatening legal action to change that.

The American Foreign Service Association is planning to sue the State Department if it does not provide, by close of business Thursday, the release of “Certificates of Demonstrated Competence” that the agency customarily fills out for each ambassadorial nominee.

This move has been in the works for a long time but finally came to a vote by the governing board today, a spokesperson for the group told ABC News.

AFSA has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for these documents, which are customarily submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before nomination hearings, but those requests have not been fulfilled, group officials said.

The first FOIA request came in July 2013, followed by one on February 28th, the spokesperson said.

These certificates have been a standard issue since the passing of the Foreign Service Act of 1980.

Back in mid-February, AFSA drafted a uniform set of qualifications for ambassador nominees, including a few that appeared to be a subtle dig at the slate of less-than-stellar picks of political bundlers-turned-diplomats, including George Tsunis, Noah Mamet and Colleen Bell, respective nominees for Norway, Argentina and Hungary.

Included in those five-page guidelines: “The nominee has experience in or with the host country or other suitable international experience, and has knowledge of the host country culture and language or of other foreign cultures or languages. He or she has the ability to manage relations between the U.S. and the country or organization of assignment in order to advance U.S. interests, including the interests of U.S. commercial firms as well as individual U.S. citizens and nationals. The nominee skillfully interacts with different audiences — both public and private.”

But the AFSA spokesperson underscored that Wednesday’s announcement was not intended to be directed at one particular nominee – rather, the goal was to establish one set of standards for ambassadorial qualifications between the White House, State Department and Senate.

The last notable public rebuke of a political appointee to a cushy embassy job happened in 1994, with late hotelier Larry Lawrence, then-President Clinton’s pick for ambassador to Switzerland, who was at the time fighting a case over an IRS claim that he and his wife owed $76 million in back taxes.

Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during Lawrence’s nomination hearing, then-AFSA Chairman Dennis Kux testified, “If the president were to name a real estate mogul to run an aircraft carrier or command an Army corps, he would be regarded as deranged,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

 

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