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Foreign Affairs Democrats to Trump: Dissenting Diplomats Protected by Law

Jan 31, 2017
Press Release

Committee Announces New Whistleblower Tool to Report Abuse of Authority​

WASHINGTON—Democratic Members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs today reminded the Administration that State Department personnel who dissent from policy are protected by law and sought assurances that State Department personnel would not be subject to harassment or retribution for offering dissenting viewpoints.  In a letter to the President, the Members expressed concern over comments from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer that diplomats who disagree with Administration policy should “get with the program or they should go.”

Additionally, as part of an effort to ensure State Department personnel can easily report waste, fraud, and abuse of authority, the Committee Democratic Office has launched a new online whistleblower portal.

The Members wrote, “It’s deeply troubling that your Administration isn’t interested in hearing different perspectives, especially those transmitted through the State Department’s revered Dissent Channel.  The State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual prohibits reprisal or disciplinary action against anyone who uses the Dissent Channel.  We are requesting your assurances that State Department personnel will not be subject to harassment or retribution if they take advantage of the Dissent Channel or offer policy advice that doesn’t align with White House policy decisions.”

All Democratic Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee signed the letter, the full text of which follows and can be found here:

The President

The White House

Washington, DC  20500

Dear Mr. President: 

Yesterday, from the White House podium, your spokesperson, Sean Spicer, announced that State Department employees who offer dissent to your executive order on immigration and refugees should “get with the program or they should go.”  We are alarmed by Mr. Spicer’s apparent lack of knowledge about the way foreign policy is made in the United States.

We would like you to know that during the Administration of President Nixon, the State Department established a formal mechanism to allow personnel to express dissent from Administration policy.  According to the State Department, “the Dissent Channel was created to allow its users the opportunity to bring dissenting or alternative views on substantive foreign policy issues, when such views cannot be communicated in a full and timely manner through regular operating channels or procedures.”  For decades, the Dissent Channel has offered our diplomats the ability in critical circumstances to express concerns and warnings contrary to Administration policies. Notable examples have included dissents from policies toward Vietnam and Syria.

So it’s deeply troubling that your Administration isn’t interested in hearing different perspectives, especially those transmitted through the State Department’s revered Dissent Channel.  The State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual prohibits reprisal or disciplinary action against anyone who uses the Dissent Channel.  We are requesting your assurances that State Department personnel will not be subject to harassment or retribution if they take advantage of the Dissent Channel or offer policy advice that doesn’t align with White House policy decisions. 

Please reply as soon as possible confirming that your Administration will respect the law (P.L. 96-465) governing the State Department and the treatment of its personnel.

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