Competency Assessments of Would-Be Ambassadors Will Now be Public

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The union of retired and active Foreign Service Officers on Friday announced that it had resolved its month-old conflict with the White House over transparency surrounding assessments of competency for the president’s ambassadorial nominees.

A new transparency agreement was announced by the American Foreign Service Association, which in February released guidelines it hoped would raise the bar on nominees at a time when some—particularly private-sector individuals who raised money for President Obama’s reelection campaign—had drawn criticism at Senate hearings for displaying superficial knowledge of their future host countries.

AFSA had filed a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of the State Department’s “certificates of demonstrated competence” for several nominees in question, producing a stalemate with the White House over whether such documents should become part of the public debate. AFSA was given the documents but declined to make them public until the State Department did so.

Under the new entente, State in the future will post copies of the mandatory certificates for all nominees right after the nomination is sent up. And the certificates henceforth will be written to address the qualifications detailed in AFSA’s new “Guidelines for Successful Performance as a Chief of Mission.”

The organization did not insist that State make public the few certificates related to the currently controversial nominees.

“At this time, there are no plans to post the earlier certificates online,” Director of Communications Kristen Fernekes said in an email to Government Executive. “AFSA’s chiefs-of-mission initiative has always been forward-looking, with the intention of moving the nomination process in a positive direction. We believe today’s announcement does that. The ultimate goal is to get the best men and women to serve as U.S. ambassadors. We do not believe that the release of the older certificates will contribute in a positive way to this ongoing process.”

AFSA President Robert Silverman said in a statement that his group “believes that all Americans have a vested interest in ensuring that the United States has effective leaders in our embassies and missions overseas. We believe transparency of the nomination process is an important step. We very much appreciate the efforts of the White House and State Department, and AFSA -- as the voice of the Foreign Service -- looks forward to working to assure that our country is represented by the very best men and women at our diplomatic missions abroad.”

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