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State Department employees union demands documents on embattled ambassador nominees

The State Department employees union is demanding that the department turn over key documents on three embattled ambassadorial nominees — and all pending Obama administration nominees, both career Foreign Service and non-career folks — by Thursday evening or face a prompt lawsuit for the materials.

The documents, called “certificates of demonstrated competence,” essentially explain the rationale for nominating  each individual. The 28-member governing board of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) voted unanimously to demand the documents.

AFSA had filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the documents in July, but it has not received them.

The threat of a lawsuit comes at a time when three of Obama’s bundler ambassador nominees  have come under heavy fire at their Senate committee hearing after showing scant knowledge of the countries to which they’d been nominated.

The three nominees were Colleen Bell (for Hungary, which borders on Ukraine), George Tsunis (Norway) and Noah Mamet (Argentina). Bell and Tsunis were approved by the Senate committee this month, though Tsunis got through on a party-line, 12 to 6 vote.

There was some expectation that AFSA would vote Wednesday whether  to oppose those nominees, but the feeling at the meeting apparently was that the union should first review the administration’s case for confirmations.

Although the board was very concerned about those particular three nominees, “We’re not going to be satisfied with one or two small victories,”AFSA president Robert Silverman said in an interview. “We want the system to be fixed, it’s broken.”

With the certificates in hand, the board, probably by telephone vote, is expected to deal with those three nominees. On the other hand, if AFSA needs to go to court for the documents, it may not get them before the full Senate votes on the nominations.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

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