The State Department is now quietly allowing dozens of young women and minority students to become full-fledged diplomats after threatening to rescind job offers that most of the students were given two years ago upon winning prestigious scholarships.
The concession, issued without announcement on Thursday, came after an intense lobbying campaign by members of Congress and retired diplomats. They persuaded Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson to reverse his earlier decision to delay the students’ hiring into the Foreign Service indefinitely.
This month, the State Department notified about 60 Rangel and Pickering fellowship recipients that not only would they not be joining the Foreign Service, but that they had to choose whether to either accept what amounted to a two-year clerkship, or pay back the roughly $85,000 the government had invested in each of their educations.
The students had only about nine days to decide between what they saw as unappealing choices.
“I was mad,” said Cameron Torreon, who had just graduated from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and was expecting to start at the State Department. “I felt like I had held up my end of the bargain — got the grades and clearances they asked for — and then they backed out.”
The Trump administration has proposed cutting the State Department’s budget by 31 percent, or roughly $16 billion. The draconian cut would cause enormous disruptions, gutting aid and development programs that some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people depend upon. A $1.1 billion proposed cut to a program that provides lifesaving medicines to those infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, could cause as many as one million deaths.