WASHINGTON — In the wake of warnings from the White House that career diplomats should resign if they do not support President Trump’s policy agenda, the organization representing the nation’s foreign service officers Tuesday warned its members to not post on unapproved negative comments about the administration’s policies on their personal social media pages.
In an email to members, the American Foreign Service Association noted that it “has been flooded in recent days with questions from our members about what is and is not allowed regarding the expression of disagreement” with the administration’s policies.
Spokespersons for AFSA, which represents current and former foreign service officers at the State Department, USAID and other agencies, did not respond to a request for comment. But sources familiar with the situation said the email is unprecedented and reflects the growing anxiety career members of the executive branch feel about the new administration’s hostility towards dissent.
The email comes after about 900 State Department employees signed a memo expressing their discontent with President Donald Trump’s immigration order, Reuters reported.
In response to reports of the memo on Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer bluntly warned that foreign service officers and other bureaucrats should “either get with the program or they can go,” a statement that has sent shockwaves through the State Department, which has formal mechanisms for employees to express dissent.
The email lays out a handful of basic guidelines members should follow, including not engaging in walkouts or partisan political activity. The email also warns foreign service officers that “if you wish to post something pertaining to current U.S. foreign policy (such as the January 27, 2017 Executive Order titled 'Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States') on your personal social media account or blog, then you must have the post cleared."
Additionally AFSA notes that the “dissent channel” — an internal mechanism for State Department employees to raise concerns with policies — remains available for foreign service officers, and that using it cannot be used against them.
“The State Department may not punish an employee who uses the dissent channel. It also prohibits raters and reviewers from negatively mentioning an employee’s use of the dissent channel when writing said employee’s [review]. The Foreign Service promotion precepts explicitly recognize appropriate dissent as a positive factor to be considered when reviewing employees for promotion,” AFSA explained.
Still, the email cautions that members should buy professional liability insurance in case action is brought against them, and flatly warns “AFSA assistance and representation does not always guarantee that an employee ends up with the result that s/he wants.”
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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