AP Diplomatic Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The union that represents U.S. diplomats threatened Wednesday to sue the State Department unless it releases documents attesting to the qualifications of ambassadorial nominees amid a fierce debate over the credentials of several recent nominees.
The American Foreign Service Association said it would ask a court to compel the production of the documents, known as "Certificates of Demonstrated Competence," if the department does not do so voluntarily by the end of Thursday. It said the department had ignored previous requests to have the documents released under Freedom of Information Act.
"AFSA remains concerned about the qualifications of several recent nominees," the organization said in a statement. "AFSA's goal is to ensure that the nation has the most qualified persons serving as ambassadors. AFSA believes that the President and the American people deserve nothing less."
The lawsuit threat comes as the White House faces harsh criticism about a handful of ambassador nominees who have scant knowledge or expertise about the nations where they would serve. Several of those nominees were high-dollar campaign fundraisers and donors for President Barack Obama, raising concerns they were rewarded for their lucrative political support.
At least three recent ambassadorial nominees -- George Tsunis for Norway, Noah Bryson Mamet for Argentina and Colleen Bell for Hungary -- have raised concerns after poor performances in their confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. None has extensive experience with the nations where they would be stationed if confirmed.
Last month, AFSA, which represents about 16,000 current and retired diplomats, said it does not object to nominees who have little or no official diplomatic experience. But the group also unveiled a set of guidelines it said should be considered by the White House and Senate when choosing and confirming ambassadors.
Those include leadership, interpersonal and managerial skills, the ability to formulate high-level policy and knowledge of the foreign area.
An AFSA survey has found that 37 percent of ambassadors during President Barack Obama's presidency are or have been political appointees.
That is the highest rate since former President Ronald Reagan's administration in the 1980s and higher than the historical average of about 30 percent.
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