The Foreign Service Journal - January/February 2017
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Why U.S. Ambassadors Should Be

Career Professionals



he United States is unique

among developed nations

in that nearly a third of U.S.

embassies—and more than 60

percent of those located in major devel-

oped countries—are headed by politi-

cal appointees without experience in

diplomacy. Though some governments

do send political appointees to represent

them in Washington and other key capi-

tals, the vast majority of their missions

are headed by trained career diplomats.

Without a doubt, the ability to raise

millions of dollars for a presidential

campaign is a valuable skill. But reward-

ing a fundraiser or “bundler” with the

job of heading a U.S. embassy reveals

total ignorance of what the job entails.

Almost unknown outside diplomatic

circles, an ambassador’s responsibilities

are numerous, complex and impor-

tant—sometimes critical. And, as with

any and all top management positions,

they cannot be effectively carried out by


Moreover, selling an important

federal position in this manner impedes

attainment of our international objec-

tives, violates the basic principles of good

governance, ignores existing law and is

understandably resented by the nations

Edward L. Peck, a Foreign Service officer from 1956 to 1989, served as chief of mission

in Mauritania and Iraq, among many other assignments including postings to Swe-

den, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. Ambassador Peck later served as execu-

tive secretary of the American Academy of Diplomacy. In that capacity he prepared

evaluations on the qualifications of more than 150 political and career nominees for the Senate

Foreign Relations Committee, using the same materials those nominees had submitted to the


on the receiving end of such appoint-


I do not mean in any way to cast

aspersions on the abilities, character,

successes, skills, patriotism or other

commendable attributes of the nomi-

nees. But as a new administration takes

office, I submit that it is high time to

abolish the spoils system once and for

all, for U.S. diplomacy. America does not

benefit from this practice.

The Chief of Mission


In the

Foreign Service Act of 1980

(Public Law 96-465), Congress spelled

out what chiefs of mission are expected

to do, as well as the qualifications

required. Section 207, Responsibilities

of the Chief of Mission, merits a close


“Under the direction of the president,

the chief of mission to a foreign country:

(1) shall have full responsibility for the

direction, coordination and supervi-

sion of all government executive branch

employees in that country (except for

employees under the command of a

United States area military commander);

and (2) shall keep fully and currently

informed with respect to all activi-

ties and operations of the government

within that country, and shall insure

that all government executive branch

employees in that country (except for

employees under the command of a

United States area military commander)

comply fully with all applicable direc-

tives of the chief of mission.”

These explicit and extensive respon-

sibilties also appear in the letter of

instruction each COM receives from the

U.S. president on appointment: “As chief

of mission, you have full responsibil-

ity for the direction, coordination and

supervision of all United States gov-

ernment executive branch employees

(except for employees under the com-

mand of a United States area military

commander).” The letter ends with, “As

chief of mission, you are not only my

personal representative, but that of our


The COM’s mandate encompasses

a massive list of activities to direct,

coordinate and supervise. More than

two dozen agencies with active roles in

foreign policy formulation have person-

nel operating programs abroad; predict-

ably, these are most numerous in the

more important (read pleasant) coun-

tries sought by most political appointees.

Since agencies cannot instruct each

other, effective management of manifold

overseas activities is often difficult from

Washington, requiring careful coordina-


But foreign policy is only an expres-

sion of intentions until it is implemented,

and that is an effort that takes place over-