Challenges of State Department security should not be deterrent to applicants

To the Editor:

Benita Singh’s column today (“No room for opposing views in State Dept. Exam,” 1/15) recalled my own experience applying for a job in the Foreign Service in 2001. While I agree that process of passing the exams and gaining security clearance involves navigating a Byzantine bureaucracy and patience-challenging delays, she has mischaracterized it as discriminatory.

I assure her that the State Department applies the same intense scrutiny to applicants of all backgrounds regardless of their ethnicity or family background. After I passed the Oral Assessment, investigators from the Department of Justice questioned everyone I knew, from my childhood neighbors to my professors at Yale. All my relatives were born in the U.S., and I had spent no more than a month abroad in my entire life. Yet investigators still asked extensive, even invasive questions about my limited travels and family — as they do all applicants — before I was granted security clearance.

Singh’s fear that she would be unable to reconcile her politics with the positions of the government is valid. However, one need not be a puppet of the president to serve in the Foreign Service. The State Department does more than merely promote American interests and foreign policy; its missions include protecting refugees, stimulating economic development, and assisting citizens working and living abroad. Our nation would be better served if more students who share Singh’s idealism considered careers in diplomacy. I hope Yale seniors pursuing careers as investment bankers or consultants will reconsider government work, and that those who do will persevere through the application process and not be discouraged by its unusual demands.

Sarah Merriman ’02

January 15, 2004

The writer is a former Yale Daily News columnist.

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