The Obama administration will start posting proof of their ambassadorial nominees’ competency online in an effort to stanch criticism that their political appointees are not qualified to represent the United States abroad.
The change in policy, which was announced by the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA)today, comes months after a slate of confirmation hearings in which nominees appeared to have little understanding of the political and cultural dynamics of the countries to which they were being sent.
The string of recent diplomatic gaffes highlighted the decades old practice of presidents rewarding big bucks backers with diplomatic posts. The goofs began when hotelier George Tsunis, who raised a million dollars for the Obama campaign, told a confirmation hearing he had never been to Norway and angered Norwegians when he confused a moderate political party with a “fringe” party.
The stammering responses by Colleen Bell, the nominee for ambassador to Hungary and a producer of “The Bold and the Beautiful,” prompted Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to sarcastically conclude her Senate hearing by saying, ”I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group of nominees.”
Other fundraisers stumbled through their hearings for postings to Argentina and Iceland. Even former senator Max Baucus, nominated to be ambassador to China, confessed, “I’m no real expert on China.”
Previously, “Certificates of Demonstrated Competence,” which will be posted on the State Department website, were only available to senators in charge of confirming nominees.
Last month AFSA, the trade association for foreign service members which had filed several Freedom of Information Act petitions for past certificates, threatened to sue the State Department if they did not provide them the documents.
The State Department did end up providing AFSA the documents it requested, and today’s announcement will cover all future nominations.
“We believe transparency of the nomination process is an important step,” AFSA president Robert Silverman said in a statement. “We all agree that it is essential that these individuals are able to advance the president’s policies and protect U.S. interests around the globe.”
In addition to being posted online, future certificates will abide by AFSA’s new, more stringent standards for ambassadorial nominees, including the need to have an “understanding of high level policy and operations and of key U.S. interests and values in the country,” “understanding of host country and international affairs” and “relevant management experience.”