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or most of my 28 years in the
Foreign Commercial Service, the
notion of FCS merging with State
has been anathema. Te risk-
averse, policy-focused culture at State
was and is seen as the antithesis of the
agile, entrepreneurial culture that FCS
requires to provide customized solutions
to American companies.
Yet today, FCS ofcers openly discuss
the pros and cons of merging with State,
asking the following questions: Would
it be good for our clients? How would
it afect our careers? How could it be
structured to protect the entrepreneurial,
feld-driven culture at the heart of our
success? How would we continue our
tight partnership with the Commerce
Department’s domestic feld?
Against that backdrop, and in antici-
pation of larger changes as the Obama
administration begins its second term,
this article frst looks at what has changed
at State. It then ofers suggestions for
structuring a merger between FCS and
State to more efectively create American
jobs through exports and inward invest-
Facing the Unthinkable:
Time for FCS to Merge with State?
Daniel Harris is a 28-year veteran of the U.S. Commercial Service, with the rank of minister
counselor. He served as minister counselor for commercial afairs in Paris from 2008 to 2011,
deputy assistant secretary for international operations from 2005 to 2008, and consul general
in Duesseldorf from 1999 to 2003, among many other Foreign Service assignments. Currently,
he directs FCS operations in East Asia and the Pacifc, while pursuing an executive master’s
degree at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.
Te author thanks AFSA FCS Vice President Keith Curtis for his invaluable assistance and
support in preparing this commentary. However, the views expressed in this article are those of
the author only, and do not represent those of the International Trade Administration or the
U.S. government.
State Warms to
Commercial Work
Congress created the U.S. and Foreign
Commercial Service in 1980 because the
American business community found
that the State Department did not value
commercial work internally and provided
grudging support to American frms
overseas. Te newly formed Foreign
Service agency was placed inside the
International Trade Administration at
the U.S. Department of Commerce—a
domestic department with extremely
disparate functions, from weather to the
census, and from statistics to patents.
With the end of the Cold War, eco-
nomic security became sexy, and State
recognized it needed the American busi-
ness community as a powerful domestic
constituency. In the early 1990s, Secre-
tary of State Lawrence Eagleburger sent
marching orders to ambassadors that
began a sea change in State’s attitude
toward commercial work—one that has
continued, albeit inconsistently, ever
Two decades after the Eagleburger
cable, support for American business
overseas has become far more ingrained
in the State culture, and perceptive
ambassadors consider a strong commer-
cial section as integral to accomplishing
the embassy’s overarching mission.
FCS and State economic ofcers have,
for the most part, learned to contain
the inevitable frictions that stem from
overlapping functions. We have often
developed close relationships based on
mutual respect and honest communica-
tion that result in a pooling of comple-
mentary skills to advance our economic
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s
reforms in the recruitment process
have brought greater diversity into the
department’s ranks. Tis, combined
with a generational shift since 9/11, has
led to a culture in fux—including more
entrepreneurial ofcers who seem drawn
to commercial work. Even so, busi-
ness interests have taken a back seat to
national security priorities in the fght
against terrorism, including two wars
that have reshaped the Foreign Service
culture at State.
“Statecraft” or
Early in 2012, citing President Barack
Obama’s National Export Initiative, State
launched a campaign to move rapidly
into core commercial functions, even at
the 72 posts where the Foreign Com-
mercial Service has active sections.
State’s heavy-handed and uncoordinated
redrawing of functions has unsettled
commercial and economic ofcers alike.