Director of the State Department Office of Foreign Missions
Interview by: Charles Padgett
The new Director of the Office of Foreign Missions for the State Department, Robin E. Blunt, is an experienced and intelligent individual who finds excitement and meaning in her service. Having served around the world in both safe and dangerous places, she is more than prepared to face the challenges of her position. She knows the importance of her job and does not take it lightly.
Q: First, tell us about yourself and your background.
A: I was born and raised in Griffith, Indiana, 30 miles outside of Chicago, with a younger and older brother. I studied at West Virginia University starting out as a voice major but switched to political science with the intent of going to law school. After graduation, I took a year off to work at a law firm and discovered it was not for me. After working at a white collar private investigative firm as office manager for 4 years, I then worked at the First National Bank of Chicago as a financial analyst dealing with asset backed securities.
My journey with the State Department began when I saw a flyer that had an article about the Foreign Service. I was brought up with the idea that one should serve their country in some capacity and since I did not have the physique for the military, I chose the Foreign Service. The process of joining was difficult – when I joined one had to take a written test then, if you passed the written exam, you were invited to attend a day-long an oral assessment.. It took me 3 times to pass the orals but this is not unusual for many people who apply. It was the most stressful thing I had experienced prior to joining the State Department. I chose the Management area out of Political, Economic, Public Diplomacy, and Consular because my background was in management. The usual wait between passing the tests and working can be three to six months but I was called in two weeks. I had to delay joining because my job at the time required advance notice before leaving.
After a seven week orientation, I received my first assignment to London, England where I did consular work for 2 years. My next assignment was Tirana, Albania but before going, I learned to speak Albanian, an incredibly difficult language. Three months into the tour the Ambassador passed away and because the chain of command moved around to fill the void I was made chief of a large consular section on only my second tour. I then served in places such as Kosovo as a Political officer covering the general assembly and Hamburg, Germany where I was the Management officer. One of my more stressful assignments was Kabul, Afghanistan as Deputy Director of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams. I would often find myself flying in Black Hawk helicopters over mountain ranges to consult with our forward operating bases. ItÕs a country of extreme climates, you either have arctic winds or scalding temperatures well over 100 degrees. After such an interesting and harrowing assignment, I returned to the United States to be Deputy Director at the National Visa Center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I then did a Human Resource tour at the State Department’s Florida Regional Center. This took me to Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Curacao and Venezuela. After having spent some time in the United States, I was bidding on overseas positions and was lucky enough to be assigned to a year-long tour in Juba, South Sudan. Right before I arrived, there was a outbreak of severe violence causing the embassy to be on lockdown for the remainder of my stay. We had to take armoured vehicles everywhere, even to the housing compound a block down the street. The new country was very unstable and our help was pivotal in helping develop their government. I was led to Houston because I wanted to be close to my father and have always wanted to work for the Office of Foreign Missions. I was lucky to get the position after being incredibly persistent, some might say annoyingly so! This is my first director position and I am incredibly excited to work closely with the large international community here.
Q: What does being the Head of the US Department of State Office of Foreign Missions mean to you?
A: It is an incredible honor and I could not be more pleased. Having spent most of my career overseas and with most of my experience in management, I know how important it is to have a good working relationship with the various foreign consulates. Having that relationship means getting credentials, diplomatic license plates and driver’s license quickly and smoothly. It’s quality of life issues that can not be ignored or you will have a bunch of miserable people on your hands.
Q: What was the most interesting place you have been posted in the United States or abroad?
A: Each assignment presents its own unique challenges but I would have to say Juba, South Sudan was the most interesting. It’s a new country and we saw the challenges the government was facing trying to create a viable system, especially when many areas are plagued with violence and poverty.
Q: At that posting, what was the most interesting problem you helped solve between the US and that country?
A: Throughout the world all the United States Embassies provide health insurance for their locally employed staff. Being a new country, Juba did not have any insurance companies that we could contract with so our locally employed staff would have to provide all the money up front for their medical expenses and would be reimbursed by the embassy afterwards. This was a problem because many of them could not afford the upfront costs and it was an incredible hardship on them. The entire time I was posted there, my team and I worked to find a solution. A new clinic finally came into Juba that was clean, had good equipment, doctors, and even an ambulance. After negotiating with the clinic, we reached an agreement where our staff could go there and the clinic would bill the embassy directly rather than the employee paying up front. The negotiations were not the hardest part, but getting everything approved through our headquarters in Washington D.C. was a long and arduous process. A week after I left Juba everything was finally established and it was a paramount accomplishment.
Q: What are some future goals you would like to achieve while serving in your position?
A: I want to get out and visit the consulates, meet the consul generals, and see their facilities. I would also like to visit the other states under our jurisdiction in the mid-west. My biggest goal is to provide outstanding service to the consulates in our region because it is a critically important service for the community.
Having the opportunity to have a conversation with Mrs. Blunt was a great experience. Hearing about her story gave me a new perspective of what it means to join the Foreign Service and reinforced my belief of how important international relations are. Globalization is key to the future of making the world a better place by connecting people from different cultures and countries. It opens your eyes to beautiful traditions and history enriched by the wide expanse of different people that make up the human race.