Democratic senators sponsored a bill, dubbed the State Department Integrity and Transparency Act, that they said aims to ensure that the department’s employees are hired on the basis of merit, not politics.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., announced the bill, cosponsored by Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. — all members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The senators strive to block political attempts at undermining the nonpartisan federal workforce by strengthening the State Department.

“As the stewards of American diplomacy around the world, the people who power our State Department must be well-qualified, competent, and above the political fray,” said Van Hollen in a statement on June 7. “This legislation will help guard our diplomatic corps against politicization and preserve its integrity as a merit-based institution focused on advancing American values across the globe.”

While there are already vetting procedures in place for all federal employees, the bill would beef up requirements to include sections detailing that 75% of the State Department’s assistant secretaries need to have served in the Department’s Senior Foreign Service or Senior Executive Service. This requirement is meant to increase the number of career professional appointees in senior ranks like in the Central Intelligence Agency.

Given the upcoming presidential election in November and former President Donald Trump’s administration’s “lax” vetting system, the bill promotes the importance of foreign policy officials that are experienced, thoroughly vetted and uninfluenced by politics or money.

Appointments and nominees by the Trump administration for senior-level positions were under scrutiny during his time in office. There were reported cases of embellished and inaccurate resumes and underqualified candidates, according to a 2019 NBC News article on the discovery of a senior Trump administration officials misleading claims on her resume.

During his time as president, Trump sought to strip away employment protection from federal employees by reclassifying tens of thousands of them into at-will employee status, which allows their employers to fire them at a moments notice for any reason. President Joe Biden’s administration is working to prevent the return of Schedule F, Trump’s failed attempt at this change in federal employment status.

If reelected, Trump could institute something similar to Schedule F.

The act would extend the current requirement that the State Department submit qualification reports to Congress on all nominees for ambassadorial to assistant secretary nominees.

The bill also reaffirms that political campaigns will not sway the appointment of chiefs of mission, who are responsible for U.S. diplomatic missions and U.S. offices abroad, with the requirement of a “presidential certification of compliance” that competence is the primary qualification for the appointment.

“A strong, experienced workforce is essential to the success of our federal agencies. This bill ensures the State Department—the face of American diplomacy—will have the best possible foreign policy professionals working to protect our national security and interests overseas,” Merkley said in a statement. “As the United States tackles growing global threats, we need to be able to confront these challenges wherever they appear with our best and brightest people.”

Cristina Stassis is an editorial fellow for Defense News and Military Times, where she covers stories surrounding the defense industry, national security, military/veteran affairs and more. She is currently studying journalism and mass communication and international affairs at the George Washington University.

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