The academy, which is nonpartisan, said in a statement that it “strongly supports” peaceful demonstrations that have called for justice in the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer pinned Floyd by the neck with his knee. Floyd’s death and the outpouring of anger since are a reminder that the U.S. should live up to the values of diversity that it has long defended, the academy said.
“We believe that a diplomatic service and other representatives of U.S. foreign policy need to look like America, an essential part of representing our country abroad,” states the academy, whose members include numerous former U.S. diplomats. “It shows the world that a truly great nation draws its strength from all of its citizens. The State Department falls short of this goal.”
As an example, the academy noted that of around 190 ambassadorial positions, fewer than 10 are held by African American or Hispanic career diplomats. A study published earlier this year found the State Department has made some limited but uneven gains in ethnic and racial diversity since 2002.
The academy called for the State Department to take several steps, including publicly affirming its commitment to diversity, expanding recruitment of minorities and women, offering more internships, enhancing mentorship programs and working to improve promotion rates for women and minorities within the foreign service.
In recent days, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun and the top human resources official, Carol Perez, have sent lengthy notes to the department remarking on the Floyd tragedy and its implications. Both stressed the department’s commitment to diversity and urged staffers to reflect on what the death and subsequent protests have meant.
”Together, we will continue to evolve our institution to reflect what is best about America,” Biegun wrote in his message.
Although Biegun wrote at one point, “The secretary and I recognize this has been an extraordinary time in history, and a challenging time for you and your families,” Pompeo’s lack of personal outreach to the rank and file has been noticed.
“It’s hard to understand why he didn’t so much as send an email,” one State Department official said.
The official noted that the department “ethos” that Pompeo has promoted says, “I take ownership of and responsibility for my actions and decisions.” Instead, the official said, Pompeo “has decided to delegate leadership on this to lower levels. And that speaks volumes.”
Although he has not reached out to State Department employees on Floyd’s death, Pompeo hasn’t been completely silent on the issue.
In a TV interview, he offered condolences to Floyd’s family and called the police actions in the case “abhorrent.” In a lengthy statement released over the weekend, Pompeo slammed the Chinese government’s propaganda on what he described as the “tragic death of George Floyd.”
But the secretary’s lack of direct outreach to his staff could further erode trust in him. It comes amid lingering frustration among his staffers over his refusal to publicly defend U.S. diplomats caught up in the Ukraine-related impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
A State Department spokesperson pointed to Pompeo’s public statements on Floyd and insisted the secretary “is committed to building a more diverse and inclusive” workforce. The spokesperson gave as an example of that commitment the creation of a departmentwide task force focusing on diversity issues.
“We are always looking for ways to strengthen our commitment,” the spokesperson said.
The department, meanwhile, has sent out a list of talking points that U.S. embassies can use when addressing the Floyd case overseas. The talking points, obtained by POLITICO, stress that Floyd’s death was a tragedy, while noting that the U.S. permits peaceful protests and that most police officers do their job in a lawful way.
“Though these challenges are difficult to address, the United States and free and open societies around the world are strengthened through the debates produced through our citizens exercising their right to free speech and held accountable through freedom of the press and rule of law,” one talking point states.
It’s not clear how many agency and department leaders across the U.S. government have reached out to their staffs about the Floyd death. But multiple military service branch chiefs have done so, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper has tried to send a message to the troops as well.
“Racism is real in America, and we must all do our very best to recognize it, to confront it, and to eradicate it,” Esper said in remarks to reporters earlier this month. “I’ve always been proud to be a member of an institution — the United States military — that embraces diversity and inclusion and prohibits hate and discrimination in all forms.”
Within the State Department, current and former staffers say, there have been many conversations about the role race, ethnicity and other factors have played in people’s careers.
In her note, Perez acknowledged and encouraged the discussions.
“Over the past few days I have read powerful employee testimonies — stories of disrespect, exhaustion, and disappointment,” she wrote. “These distressing accounts should strengthen our collective resolve; we must do better by our people and by one another.”