Pompeo should lose the trust of taxpayers as well as that of the Foreign Service

I was escorted through a sterile hallway into a windowless conference room early one morning. A few other people were milling about, all well dressed, a little nervous and obviously feeling out of place. A woman handed us a stack of forms. I asked if there was coffee. She pointed to a vending machine. It was in the late 1990s and it was my welcome to the Foreign Service.

A week before, I was a corporate lawyer. We didn’t drink coffee from the vending machines – instead we had premium gourmet beer and premium catered food for all corporate gatherings. We’ve arranged business deals and meetings with clients over lunches at some of Manhattan’s finest restaurants or in premier club seating at sporting events.

In government, there are ethical rules that seem irrational from the perspective of the private sector. Many of these rules primarily minimize perceptions of conflicts of interest rather than actual corruption. A federal contractor, for example, cannot take a federal government employee to even a modest lunch. Employees generally cannot exchange even small gifts, and even the busiest boss working on the most important issues cannot ask employees to run simple personal errands. Government is just different from the private sector.

Career people know that public service means buying your own coffee, sitting in the stands, and walking your own dog.

U.S. diplomats are typically Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) who commit to spending most of their working lives abroad. The mission of the Foreign Service is to promote peace, support prosperity, and protect American citizens while advancing United States interests abroad. This life attracts people who are passionate about public service and want to represent the United States in the world. Ethical rules become part of the mission, a philosophy that embraces the noble purpose of representing America.

Each OFS knows the duties of representation. The film’s stereotype is of striped diplomats hosting elegant cocktail parties while engaging in high-level discussions or political intrigue. The reality is much more nuanced.

Many overseas missions respond to complex crises. Many FSOs have served in Iraq, Afghanistan or another war zone. Almost all of them worked in difficult missions, away from home, in adverse and dangerous conditions. Today’s diplomats help American citizens abroad, avert security threats, monitor pandemic risks, lead humanitarian responses, negotiate ceasefires, track down terrorists and advocate for trade favorable to American companies. Senior officers must manage large budgets and hundreds of employees. These diplomats work closely with the Inspector General and Congress to account for American taxpayers’ money. Oversight can of course be adverse, but good officers know that transparency leads to better results and broader mission acceptance.

And there are receptions, of course.

State Department guidelines provide detailed regulations on taxpayer-funded entertaining—lavish spending is almost always debatable. American diplomats know that they must actively participate in receptions, almost always after a full day in the office, developing new contacts and deepening existing ones for diplomatic purposes. Agents should be the first to greet and the last to leave. Given its foreign policy objective, the State Department requires that the American presence be less than half of the total guest list. Receptions are working.

In recent months, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoFive takeaways from CPAC 2022 Pompeo slams Taylor-Greene for ‘footplaying’ with ‘anti-Semitic neo-Nazis’ Trump wins CPAC straw poll as DeSantis support grows MORE placed political ambition, loyalty to donald trumpDonald TrumpBarr says Trump ‘lost his grip’ in his upcoming memoir Five things to know about Ukrainian President Zelensky Schumer to meet Biden’s Supreme Court pick on Wednesday MORE and personal interests above his charge to lead the men and women of the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development. After the president fired the inspector general, reports surfaced that the secretary of state was under scrutiny for hosting lavish, taxpayer-funded dinner parties heavily leaning toward conservative, government-focused influencers. Pompeo’s political interests. Beyond personal dinners, Pompeo also reportedly required a staff member to run personal errands, including walking his dog and picking up dry cleaning.

In response, Donald Trump tweeted that he’d rather have Mike Pompeo “on the phone with a world leader than have him wash the dishes because maybe his wife isn’t here or his kids aren’t here. , you know”.

Most Americans probably view the issues surrounding a Secretary of State’s Inspector General investigation as part of the politics of the ring road — while they are otherwise consumed by protests, riots, curfews, coronavirus and economic collapse.

However, by placing his self-interest above the national good — and making the taxpayers foot the bill — Pompeo has devalued the Foreign Service and undermined its sacred mission to represent America abroad, yet again.

R. David Harden is Managing Director of the Georgetown Strategy Group and former Deputy Administrator of USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, where he oversaw U.S. assistance to all global crises. Follow him on Twitter at @Dave_Harden.