For Gen. Stanley McChrystal, criticizing his bosses cost him his job this week. For a few members of the American Foreign Service, it got them an award. [Read 10 Things You Didn't Know About Stanley McChrystal.]
Yesterday, at an awards presentation in the State Department's Benjamin Franklin Diplomatic Reception Room, the American Foreign Service Association honored eight of its members for their work in diplomacy. Among the awards were three for "constructive dissent," given to foreign service workers who pushed back against their superiors and offered a useful alternative to the practices of the government.
The winner of the William R. Rivkin award for dissent was Diana Briton Putman, a long-time USAID representative. Putman challenged the entire command structure of AFRICOM, the U.S. military command in Africa, when she called them out on the way they were dealing with sexual and gender-based violence victims. After a two-star general ignored a memo she and her colleagues wrote about inappropriate psychological treatments for female violence victims, she briefed him in person. When that didn't work, she continued to push for a change in the practices.
Her resolve paid off, and now both USAID and AFRICOM have committed resources for rehabilitating facilities that will provide improved services for women.
She said her background at USAID rather than the military made her more comfortable bucking the system, as she's always been encouraged to dissent in constructive ways.
Though some of her colleagues in the military knew that their program was flawed, she said they were nervous that challenging the orders of their higher-ups would threaten their jobs. "Since I was out of the system, I was a lot less intimidated about challenging people higher-up. That's much more the norm within USAID than it is in the military," she says.
"I guess if you're out there whining, complaining and saying you don't like foreign policy, but you can't offer an alternative, that's not very helpful," she says. "But what AFSA's rewarding is people who are trying to think out of the box."
Putman says she'd encourage other government agencies to offer the same type of awards as a way to fix the problems in the bureaucracy. "To my knowledge, AFSA's the only organization to do this," says Putman. "My military colleagues were just stunned when they heard about this. 'What?! You're getting an award for basically raising--you know what?'"
Pictured above: Ambassador Thomas Boyatt, Diana Briton Putman and AFSA President Susan R. Johnson at the American Foreign Service Association award ceremony June 24, 2010. (Photo by Patrick Bradley)