Senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY5) and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX20) sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson requesting that Rangel, Pickering and Payne fellows receive waivers from the hiring freeze so that they may fully serve in the State Department Foreign Service. The Rangel, Pickering and Payne fellowship programs prepare highly qualified minority students for careers as United States diplomats. This program is mutually beneficial, offering fellows approximately $85,000 in financing in exchange for a five-year service commitment.
“Now more than ever, the United States needs skillful diplomats to help navigate the global challenges we face,” Meeks said. “For over two decades, the Rangel, Pickering and Payne programs have strengthened our diplomatic core by promoting diversity in its ranks. The State Department shouldn’t go back on its promise to these dedicated individuals, for we need their unique perspectives to best promote the United States’ interests abroad.”
“A capable and diverse diplomatic corps is essential for advancing U.S. interests overseas, promoting peace and strengthening our national security,” said Castro. “After investing financially in Rangel and Pickering fellows and assuring them positions in the Foreign Service, reneging on that promise now would waste both taxpayer dollars and uniquely specialized talent. As the Trump administration’s extreme proposed cuts to the State Department’s budget threaten to hinder our diplomatic efforts around the world, exempting these young people from the agency’s hiring freeze would be a positive and practical decision for Secretary Tillerson to make.”
The following members of Congress also signed on to the letter: Eliot Engel, Alcee Hastings, John Lewis, Albio Sires, William R. Keating, Ami Bera, Gerald E. Connolly, Colleen Hanabusa, Adriano Espaillat, Norma Torres, Adam Smith, Robin Kelly, Yvette D. Clarke, Donald M. Payne Jr., Gwen Moore, Alan Lowenthal, Barbara Lee, Darren Soto, Keith Ellison, Dwight Evans, Sheila Jackson Lee, Ted Deutch, Karen Bass, José E. Serrano, Cedric L. Richmond, Val B. Demings, Adam B. Schiff, Marcia L. Fudge, Michelle Lujan Grisham.
The letter appears below.
Dear Mr. Secretary:
We understand the State Department last week contacted the most recent graduating class of Rangel and Pickering fellows to inform them that, due to the State Department’s hiring freeze, instead of joining the Foreign Service, they would have to choose by the end of the week either indefinite unemployment or a non-career track, temporary position. Given the substantial investments the U.S. government has made to prepare these fellows for careers in diplomacy, we urge you to issue waivers to accommodate their immediate appointment to the State Department Foreign Service. Recognizing that USAID Payne fellows may face a similar situation, we urge you to continue their induction into the USAID Foreign Service without interruption.
Congress explicitly authorized these programs to improve diversity in the Foreign Service, and authorized their expansion in the Fiscal Year 2017 Department of State Authorities Act. There is substantial bipartisan and bicameral support for these fellowships and the talented young people who earn them. The new employment option the State Department is providing graduating fellows is a temporary consular position, which does not meet Congressional intent.
The Rangel, Pickering and Payne fellowship programs prepare outstanding students from historically underrepresented groups for careers as U.S. diplomats. Combined, these programs facilitate the hiring and training of fewer than 100 exceptionally qualified candidates per class. In exchange for a five-year service commitment, the U.S. government invests an average of $85,000 in each fellow. This investment includes financing for undergraduate and graduate education programs, as well as professional development support through activities such as paid internships. Upon graduation, fellows begin a rewarding and challenging career in the Foreign Service. Instead, this year’s class of fellows faces uncertainty about their future and immediate employment.
Again, we urge you to proceed immediately with issuing waivers to accommodate the induction of pending Rangel and Pickering fellows into the State Department Foreign Service in alignment with Congressional intent. We also urge you to continue the induction process for Payne Fellows into the USAID Foreign Service without interruption.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.
Gregory W. Meeks
Member of Congress
Member of Congress