REP LIEU INTRODUCES BILL TO ENSURE ACCOUNTABILITY IN STATE DEPARTMENT ASSIGNMENT RESTRICTIONS PROCESS

September 16, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D-Los Angeles County), Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Congressman Andy Kim (D-NJ), and Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) introduced the Accountability in Assignment Restrictions Act, which aims to reform the practice of Assignment Restrictions at the State Department. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) imposes Assignment Restrictions on some employees who otherwise hold Top Secret clearances, precluding them from serving in a particular country or working on issues related to that country in Washington. These restrictions are often discriminatory, biased, and counterproductive to the goals of diversity, inclusion, and retention of talent at the State Department. Moreover, Assignment Restrictions waste the impressive built-in linguistic and cultural expertise present among State Department employees. The Members’ legislation will increase accountability and transparency by giving employees with Assignment Restriction access to an independent appeals process while establishing reporting requirements for the Department, including disaggregated data about the race and ethnicity of employees subject to such restrictions.

“To strengthen American foreign policy and diplomacy, we must ensure our best and brightest individuals are able to serve,” said Rep. Lieu. “The State Department’s Assignment Restrictions policy is discriminatory, disproportionately impacts federal employees who can’t trace their heritage to the Mayflower, and directly undermines the Department’s goal of promoting diversity and inclusion. Not only is this practice offensive to employees, it also affects recruitment and retention. Assignment Restrictions immediately kneecap the career of State Department employees and limit their opportunities to succeed within the Department. The restrictions are also wasteful to the Department’s built-in talent. Many of the precluded employees possess invaluable language and cultural skills, but end up unable to utilize them due to these restrictions. Finally, Assignment Restrictions make no sense in the 21st century, when adversaries such as China and Russia have global reach. An employee could face pressure from the Chinese or Russian governments anywhere in the world, whether they are serving in Beijing, Moscow, or Buenos Aires. I’m pleased to introduce this legislation to ensure accountability in the Assignment Restrictions process and require the State Department to take action to eliminate undue bias toward employees.” 

“The United States is unique among nations because no matter who you are or where you come from, you can be an American,” said Rep. Castro. “Yet, minorities – especially Asian Americans – at the State Department are frequently subject to discriminatory processes, like assignment restrictions. The Accountability in Assignment Restrictions Act would improve transparency in the use of assignment restrictions, create an independent appeals process, and ensure a fair system that fosters a diverse and inclusive workforce.”

“I am proud to support this important legislation that will require the State Department to take steps to eliminate undue bias when diplomats are prevented from working on certain regions because of their ethnicity,” said Rep. Kim. “When I was a State Department official, I was targeted based on my ethnicity, and it hurt to hear my own government say they don’t trust me because I am a Korean American. This bill is personal to me and I will do everything I can to support it and protect the brave people who volunteer to serve this country.”

“I thank my colleague, Rep. Lieu, for his important work in this area,” said Rep. Houlahan. “I’m proud to support the Accountability in Assignment Restrictions Act, an important piece of legislation to help address biases that employees of color and those who are children of immigrants face at the State Department. In order to build and retain a more diverse foreign policy workforce, we need to break down barriers that prevent the State Department from utilizing the best and brightest talent that our country has to offer.”

Support for the Accountability in Assignment Restrictions Act:

Ambassador Eric Rubin, President, the American Foreign Service Association: “AFSA supports an independent appeals process for consideration of assignment restrictions and is grateful for the inclusion of the State Department’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer (CDIO) on the appeals panel created by in the Accountability in Assignment Restrictions Act. These reforms are desperately needed to address concerns about disparate impacts as a result of the imposition of the current assignment restrictions process.”

Asian American Foreign Affairs Association: “This bill will allow the State Department to improve its national security readiness while upholding American values of equal treatment. It enhances the Department's ability to draw upon the wide cultural and linguistic skills drawn from its diverse population. Finally, its language will help ensure improved oversight of the security clearance process, both by empowering affected employees as well as Congress.”

Jenna Ben-Yehuda, President and CEO, Truman National Security Project: “The State Department’s practice of assignment restrictions is outdated, unfair, and hamstrings efforts to align our best talent with the work at hand. I whole-heartedly support Rep. Ted Lieu’s bill and I thank him for his leadership in working to create a civil service that is equitable, diverse, and provides the same opportunities for all of its staff, regardless of their identity and background. In doing so, we may work to establish an agency that truly represents America’s best talents.”

Admiral Harry Harris, former PACOM commander and former US Ambassador to South Korea: "I applaud Rep. Lieu's  efforts to improve the State Department assignments process and I fully support the Accountability in Assignment Restrictions Act.  In this hyper-competitive and dangerous global landscape in which the United States finds itself, we must ensure our best and most talented diplomats are representing our nation at the forward edge of diplomacy.  Transparency in the assignments process, especially when assignment restrictions come into play, is essential."  

Valerie Shen, Vice President for National Security at Third Way: “It is a national security imperative that the U.S. fully leverage one of its greatest strengths – its diverse diplomatic talent. We certainly cannot afford to handicap ourselves in the strategic competition with China.”

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