Although just 27 years old and at the State Department for only 10 months, Monty McGee has played a part in the safety of traveling Americans by disseminating information from the Bureau of Consular Affairs on issues and happenings in regions around the world.
Consular Affairs is the office responsible for protecting the lives and interests of U.S. citizens abroad, and provides the public with travel advisories and other services. Working as a spokesman and information officer, McGee, a Foreign Service Officer currently serving in Washington at the Office of Policy Coordination and Public Affairs, has educated several different groups of travelers through outreach campaigns and by working with the press.
He has provided travel safety information for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, educated professionals in the student exchange world about the bureau’s role in assisting American students in trouble overseas and helped raise awareness about international abductions of children by their parents.
“Monty’s really covering a wide gamut of issues for the department,” said Robert Hannan, deputy director of the Office of Policy Coordination and Public Affairs in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. “These are the most personal issues, the real human interest part of international diplomacy.”
For instance, 1,144 children were abducted from the United States last year and brought to other countries, with the highest numbers taken to Mexico (416) and the United Kingdom (40).
McGee also provides press guidance for State Department press briefings on consular issues, providing details on abductions, adoptions, visa matters and American citizens in distress abroad. Last fall, that included the kidnapping of an American overseas.
“As you can imagine, these cases draw attention. They’re really heart-wrenching stories sometimes,” said McGee.
Although this is McGee’s first State Department position and he will not be posted overseas until 2014 when he heads to Guatemala City, his previous experience working and studying in China has helped inform his job.
As a college student, McGee studied in China for two semesters, first in Beijing and then in Hunan Province in southwest China, learning to speak Mandarin Chinese. “They were very different culturally and in landscape. It felt like two different cultures.”
Then he had several internships, including one with the American Institute in Taiwan—a nonprofit that represents U.S. interests and has headquarters in Arlington, Va., and a Taipei office.
Foreign Service officers usually head overseas for their first assignment, but getting his start in Washington offers McGee an early opportunity to get a sense of how the department functions. “I can use that understanding to be a more effective consular officer when I get to a post,” he said.
Still, it was beneficial that McGee spent time abroad before starting his job. That experience led Hannan to send him to a national conference of study abroad professionals, knowing McGee was familiar with student academic exchange programs and international travel.
“American students are a big concern for us and we want to get the right information to them in advance,” Hannan said. “We’re always there to help but if we can avoid problems to begin with, we’ve done our job so much better.”
McGee also delivered the keynote address to international scholars at George Mason University, discussing his work and the importance of being a smart traveler.
His interest in China and international work began with school work at Norfolk University in Virginia, one of the largest historically black universities, when he was assigned to select and track the diaspora of an ethnic group in the United States.
During his short time on the job, McGee said he has learned how “intricate the diplomacy process can be and how we take great care here in the State Department in protecting citizens abroad.” He also has come to appreciate “the professionals who conduct diplomacy in some of the most challenging places in the world and the dedication people have.”
This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference. Send your nominations for Federal Players to firstname.lastname@example.org.