Fall 2023

A map with pins marking different locations.

Emily Boening, ’12: Voice from the Civil Service

A portrait of Emily Boening, ’12.
Emily Boening, ’12, is a special assistant to the deputy secretary at the Department of State.

Emily Boening, ’12, is a special assistant to the deputy secretary at the Department of State. Boening entered government service after graduating from the Law School and has worked across many of the most pressing foreign policy issues of the day, including as the senior external political officer on the Russia desk, a program officer in a division focused on criminal justice in Afghanistan, and in several roles related to Syria. She is based in Washington, DC.

In my current role, I advise the deputy secretary of state on Europe, arms control, and political-military issues. My job is to prepare the deputy secretary for engagements—with foreign interlocutors to advance important US priorities; with interagency counterparts to formulate, clarify, or change US policy; and inside the State Department to help reconcile differences. 

Much of this is unexciting: briefing news or bureaucratic developments; framing decisions; taking meeting notes; and tasking, reviewing, and editing papers. But I also push drafters to lean forward, through inertia. And where I notice systemic issues that no single office can solve, or sometimes even see, I identify where we could help. For example, the State Department and the Department of Defense enjoy a great relationship, but where we should improve, the deputy often needs to lead.

I have worked on some extremely challenging issues—Afghanistan, Syria, terrorism, Russia. In 2016, I supported our interagency team in Geneva, who negotiated with Russia to secure a cessation of hostilities in Syria. Violence stopped, and the all-nighters and infinite drafts felt worth it. But deaths accumulated, and, finally, it failed, as bombs struck a humanitarian convoy. Not preventing more war weighed heavily on myself and my colleagues, despite Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s responsibility. Both the initial success and its ultimate failure show what impact the State Department—and I—can have.

I celebrate small successes, like the secretary’s announcements that members of Russian forces committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. Many more efforts fail, like months pushing a Russia-related legislative proposal that almost succeeded—but didn’t. But I embrace failure. Failing on the world’s biggest issues means I tried. It probably won’t be me who solves the world’s problems, but whoever succeeds will be someone unafraid to fail.

Other Voices from the Foreign and Civil Service

A portrait of Seth Oppenheim, ’04.

Seth Oppenheim, ’04, US Mission to the European Union, Department of Commerce

Read More

A portrait of Priyadarshi “Pri” Sen, ’93.

Priyadarshi “Pri” Sen, ’93, deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Paramaribo, Suriname

Read More