In the Foreign Service Act of 1980, Congress mandated the creation of official records by which to assess the qualifications of ambassadorial nominees. Section 304 provides that, upon the nomination of an individual to serve in the office of ambassador, the president shall provide to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a “report on the demonstrated competence of that nominee to perform the duties of the position in which he or she is to serve.” Commonly known as “certificates of demonstrated competency,” the purpose of these records is to deter unmeritorious appointments and help the Senate evaluate nominees by reference to whether they possess a useful knowledge of the principal language or dialect of the receiving country and “knowledge and understanding of the history, the culture, the economic and political institutions, and the interests of that country and its people.”
In April of 2014, the Obama Administration announced a policy to disclose the certificates to the public for all future nominees. This policy, which is now codified in a federal statute, has since fostered transparency with respect to dozens of recent appointments. But it also left unavailable the certificates for all nominees from 1980 to the date of the Obama Administration’s announcement, so I filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in April of 2014 to obtain the roughly thirty years of certificates that predate and thus were not covered by the new disclosure regime. I finally acquired these records after a few years of delay and litigation, and now want to make them available to others in case they’re of use for research:
Finally, a file containing coding data for all nominees from 1980 to 2019 is available here.