State Department reverses decision not to hire foreign service scholarship graduates

State Department reverses decision not to hire foreign service scholarship graduates
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The State Department on Friday reversed a previous decision to not allow about 60 graduate students, the recipients of a prestigious foreign service-focused fellowship, to become diplomats after the department considered a hiring freeze, the New York Times reports

Senators and retired Foreign Service members persuaded Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to offer positions to the students, after he had previously postponed the hiring of the scholarship recipients indefinitely.

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The Rangel and Pickering Fellowship programs provide academic and professional assistance to students pursuing careers as diplomats, with the intention of assisting representation of women and minority groups in the Foreign Service. 

Earlier this month, the department notified roughly 60 scholarship recipients from the programs that the department would not hire them immediately if at all. The decision reneged on the program's promise to the students.

Instead, the students were given only about nine days to decide between two lesser alternatives: to pay back the money that the government invested in their educations, roughly $85,000 in assistance, or to take a two-year clerkship in consulates before being considered to work in the State Department, less than the full diplomatic positions previously offered with the fellowship.

“There’s never been a guarantee that anyone would have a clear offer or a pathway to Foreign Service,” said Tillerson in a Senate testimony earlier this month when asked about the decision not to hire the graduates.

Despite Tillerson’s comments, Peter Romer-Friedman, a lawyer hired by some of the fellows to represent their case, 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.”

After taking office, the Trump administration proposed a 31 percent cut to the department’s budget amounting to roughly $16 billion, leaving little room for the fellowship programs. Critics of the budget reasoning say the fellowships are already paid.

Tillerson also aimed to restructure the entire department before hiring nearly 200 top political staffers in the department, but decided last week that he would proceed with hiring a leadership team.