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When a US Embassy consul was asked to a reception in his honor, at first he did not know what to make of it. This was at a time when serious cuts to the State Department had been implemented despite bipartisan opposition in Congress. Many groups spoke up for the Foreign Service. Senior military figures declared that a well-funded, well-staffed State Department - as the largest component of the Foreign Service - was crucial to national security. Universities protested the suspension of new officer classes as detrimental to their students aspiring to diplomatic careers.
However Americans abroad, who stood to lose the most from the cuts, remained silent as a group. Realizing that the voice of ordinary Americans was crucial to the debate, in January 2018 a group of Americans in London launched 1-800Home, a non-partisan citizen organization, in support of the Foreign Service (www.1-800home.org). The decision was to make the launch event a ‘Thank You’ reception honoring a consul. This was apparently a first, which explains why the Head of American Citizen Services at the time, Ron Packowitz told the assembly that his first reaction to the invitation was surprise.
The logo for 1-800Home is an eagle, symbolising the care and protection by the Government, on a red emergency telephone. Although originally motivated by fears for the future of the Foreign Service, the purpose of 1-800Home is not to place blame but rather to assume responsibility. It is up to Americans to tell elected officials that the public values US diplomats and needs a Foreign Service that is strong in numbers (so they have enough people to assist Americans), strong in budget (so they have the money to get the job done) and strong in career progression (so talented people join and remain in public service).
Because it is based in London the emphasis is naturally on consular services. Over 9 million Americans live outside of the United States and some 67 million traveled abroad in 2016. Most Americans may not even know that the principal mission of US embassies and consulates is to protect and assist citizens abroad who may find themselves victims of crime or a terrorist incident or coping with a natural disaster. Given that Americans travel all over the world, obviously sustained cuts to the State Department put that mission at risk. Unfortunately, squeezing the Department is not a recent phenomenon but one that stretches back at least 20 years.
Since people only support what they understand, one of the goals of 1-800Home is to help educate Americans about the work of the Foreign Service. The annual Thank You reception is part of that effort as is the website, particularly the 1-800Home blog - ‘Who You Gonna Call?’ The group also encourages study abroad students to consider joining the State Department by organizing panel discussions with embassy officers. The website contains a section on Foreign Service careers as a resource for students as well as international affairs internship opportunities.
In addition to reminding lawmakers they have constituents abroad, raising awareness among fellow citizens and posting career information, 1-800Home stands in support of a strong career progression for career officers. Although the current Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo has made strides in filling top positions left vacant by his predecessor, many senior positions are unfilled and the loss of dozens of outstanding, experienced officers remains a major cause of concern. 1-800Home is not at all opposed to political appointments. The combination of non-career political appointees and career officers benefits the country but the public deserves the very best. That means political appointees should have outstanding qualifications and career officers should be able to attain any position for which they are qualified. Moreover, the percentage of career officers in key positions should leave no doubt that the US Foreign Service is a career service. Without strong career progression there is a negative impact on strong numbers and talented new recruits, which puts Americans at risk.
At the launch Ron Packowitz described the special services category of consular work which includes making the difficult phone call to a family in the US that a loved one has died overseas. It is because of this responsibility that the annual Thank You Foreign Service reception honors consuls, however the concept of 1-800Home is a way of thanking everyone in the Foreign Service for choosing to serve the public in a career dedicated to keeping us safe.
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