State Dept. reverses decision on hiring students in foreign service program

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Friday, the State Department reversed a previous decision that would have prevented 60 graduate students from becoming diplomats, according to The Hill. The department reportedly considered a hiring freeze that would block recipients of prestigious foreign service-focused fellowships.

The Rangel Graduate Fellowship “aims to attract and prepare outstanding young people for careers in the Foreign Service in which they can help formulate, represent and implement U.S. foreign policy,” according to its website. They select “30 outstanding Rangel Fellows” for “highly competitive” internships and professional development activities, including entry into the Foreign Service.

The Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship Program is funded by the U.S. Department of State and administered by The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars. The program prepares students “for a career in the U.S. Department of State Foreign Service.”

Both programs encourage minority and underrepresented groups to apply, and both would have been affected by Tillerson’s decision earlier this month to postpone hiring roughly 60 scholarship recipients from the programs, indefinitely. The decision was in line with the Trump administration’s efforts to cut the department’s budget by 31-percent, removing close to $16 billion and leaving little room for programs such as those provided by the fellowship.

The students were reportedly given two lesser alternatives: reimburse the government the nearly $85K it invested in their educations, or take a two-year clerkship in consulates. Thereafter, they would be considered to work in the State Department.

According to critics that say the fellowships were already paid, the decision broke a promise of full diplomatic positions. Peter Romer-Friedman, a lawyer hired by some of the fellows, said. “This is about making sure the government does what it said it would do when it paid for these young men and women to go to graduate school so they could join the Foreign Service.”

In defense of his decision, Tillerson told the Senate during testimony earlier this month, “There’s never been a guarantee that anyone would have a clear offer or a pathway to Foreign Service.”

However, reportedly, senators and retired Foreign Service members were able to convince Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to offer the students positions.

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