WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration has agreed to start publicly posting certification detailing the competency of their ambassadorial nominees, a move that comes after President Obama has faced questions about whether some of his nominees were qualified to represent the USA overseas.
The State Department's decision to post the certificates online — which were previously only available to lawmakers — was announced by the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) on Friday and comes after a string of confirmation hearings in which President Obama's nominees – who were also major donors to his presidential campaigns—made headlines after offering curious answer to lawmakers.
AFSA's desire for the documents goes back to at least last July, when the group filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the documents. Last month, theythreatened to file a lawsuit if the documents — known as "certificates of demonstrated competence" — were not immediately provided for all pending Obama administration nominees.
"We believe transparency of the nomination process is an important step," said AFSA President Robert Silverman. "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."
In his confirmation hearing to be ambassador to Norway, hotel magnate George Tsunis referred to the president of Norway — there isn't one — and seemed unaware that the anti-immigrant Progress Party was part of the coalition government there.
Arizona Sen. John McCain sarcastically referred to Hollywood producer and Hungary nominee Colleen Bell as "incredibly highly qualified" after she offered only generic comments to his questions about the situation in Hungary.
And Florida Sen. Marco Rubio called on the White House to withdraw the nomination of a political fundraiser to be ambassador to Argentina, Noah Bryson Mamet, after he acknowledged during his confirmation hearing that he had never been to Argentina.
According AFSA, which is the professional association and labor union of the U.S. Foreign Service, the "certificates of demonstrated competence," a document produced for each ambassadorial nominee to comply with the Foreign Service Act of 1980, will now be published on the State Department's web site when a nominee is announced.
In addition, AFSA said the certificates will now be written to address the qualification guidelines that the union released in February. Those guidelines were written by a group of 10 former ambassadors and augment existing legal guidance on nominees.
It's not unusual for big-time donors to get plum ambassadorships in the Obama White House or in past administrations.
More than 36% of Obama's ambassadorial nominees have been political appointments. Just over 30% of George W. Bush's ambassadorial picks were political appointees, nearly 28% of Bill Clinton's ambassadors were political picks, according to AFSA.