Sean McCormackis the Spokesman for the U.S. Department of StateTom Shannon and Richard Boucher both posted on stories yesterday referencing a "survey" conducted by the American Foreign Service Association about issues related to the Foreign Service. If you take a look at my briefing Tuesday, you'll see what I thought about the survey, so my post is not about re-hashing those thoughts, but I wanted to fill you in on how Richard, Tom, and others (perhaps) came to post entries on DipNote.
In the Department morning staff meeting Tuesday, I talked about a story appearing in the Washington Post that morning about AFSA's "survey", and I asked for budget information concerning congressional outlays for the Department during the previous three years as a way to talk about what Secretary Rice has done on the Hill on behalf of the Department (and the Foreign Service) during her tenure. My bringing up the story prompted comment from a number of senior staff around the table about how the impression left by the story couldn't have been further from the reality of what they had witnessed of the Secretary's efforts fighting for the building. Many volunteered that they wanted to speak to journalists writing stories on the topic. I saw this willingness to engage the public on this topic as an opening to encourage my colleagues at the Assistant Secretary level and above to make posts to DipNote. The content and actual writing of the posts would be up to them. I thought this brief explanation was worth a short post, as it has not been the norm that we have had multiple posts on the same topic from senior management folks at the Department.
One additional note about the "survey". In talking to one media organization, I found that AFSA denied the journalist's request for a copy of the questionnaire, which the media organization's polling experts said was critical in determining whether to ascribe any weight to the results. The experts also noted, as I did, that the lack of random sampling technique raised serious questions about the value of the "survey" results in drawing conclusions about attitudes in the Foreign Service. I read one news report in which AFSA officials said the "survey" aimed to get a general sense of members' views. Seems questions about methodology undercut any utility of this "survey" in getting even a general sense of members' views, and the refusal to release the actual questions asked raises even more issues leading to the core question of what one might usefully conclude from the AFSA survey.