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Kaine & Booker Reintroduce Legislation to Boost Oversight and Transparency of Ambassador Nomination Process

Bill would help ensure that the most skilled individuals are selected for important overseas posts

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Cory Booker—members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—introduced legislation to increase oversight and transparency of ambassadorship nominations. The Ambassador Oversight and Transparency Act would require the President to detail how a nominee’s language skills, foreign policy expertise, and experience have prepared that nominee to effectively lead U.S. diplomatic efforts in the specific country in which they are nominated to serve, and require increased disclosures of a nominee’s contributions to political campaigns.

“Our ambassadors are critical to building and maintaining the relationships we need to protect not only our own safety and security, but that of our allies around the world,” said Senator Kaine. “While we have had excellent ambassadors from outside the Foreign Service, I remain concerned by the growing trend of presidents nominating campaign donors who may not have the expertise necessary for these positions. Requiring presidents to justify their nominations and be more transparent about a nominee’s political campaign contributions will ensure that the men and women of the State Department are led by ambassadors of outstanding integrity and ability.”  

“Ambassadors are crucial to American diplomacy, dedicating their service to protecting the interests and security of the United States,” said Senator Booker. “Given the importance of their role, we must increase oversight and transparency within our nomination process and ensure that those nominated for these positions are adequately qualified to serve and represent our country abroad.”

More specifically, the legislation would:

  • Require non-career nominees to better demonstrate their competence: Current law requires the President to provide a certificate of demonstrated competence (CODC) for each ambassador nominee, but does not require that certificate to address any particular qualification. This bill would require that CODCs address the nominee’s language skills and extent of knowledge and understanding of the history, culture, economics, and politics of the country where their potential post is located.
  • Increase transparency in financial disclosure: Current law requires nominees to disclose political campaign contributions made by them and their family members in the past four years. This legislation would increase that disclosure period to ten years and require them to also report funds they have “bundled” (i.e. collected) from other donors. And while current practice is to publish financial disclosures separately from CODCs, this bill would require the State Department to publish CODCs and financial disclosures of nominees together on a single website so the public can better evaluate the complete background and qualifications of a nominee. The bill would also require the President to certify that a nominee’s financial contributions played no role in the nomination process.
  • Increase oversight of non-career ambassadors: Current law requires the Department of State’s Office of the Inspector General to inspect embassy operations every five years. This bill would encourage the nomination of more qualified non-career nominees by increasing oversight of their performance. Specifically, this legislation would require all U.S. citizen embassy staff to complete an anonymous survey that assesses the leadership of the post’s ambassador, and authorize the Director General of the Foreign Service to refer deficiencies in performance to the Inspector General.

The Biden Administration has said it plans to restore the historic balance of about 70 percent of ambassador positions allocated to career diplomats with the remainder offered to political appointees, which is in line with historic averages.

The bill is endorsed by the American Foreign Service Association.

Full text of the legislation is available here.