Page 7 - Foreign Service Journal - February 2013

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growing buzz is under way
about how to strengthen the
Foreign Service and “fx”
the Department of State to
conduct diplomacy in an increasingly
complex, fast-paced and competi-
tive world. Tis renewed attention to a
perennial challenge partly refects AFSA’s
own advocacy, which has centered on
enhancing professional education and
training. It also stems from Secretary of
State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Quad-
rennial Diplomacy and Development
Review, which was aimed at making State
and the U.S. Agency for International
Development more efective, account-
able and efcient institutions.
Te steps taken so far are salutary
but not sufcient. In a strategic sense,
strengthening the Foreign Service, and
State and USAID as institutions, requires
more thorough reform and restructuring.
My October column pointed to the
diminishing presence of the career For-
eign Service in top leadership positions
at State, as demonstrated by data avail-
able on the Ofce of the Historian’s Web
site. It is apparent that the top leadership
positions within the department and the
bulk of ambassadorial assignments to
important countries have become politi-
cal appointments—a trend that is spread-
ing beyond the top echelons.
Regardless of adminis-
trations, this practice has
serious, systemic conse-
quences for the profes-
sional diplomatic service and its work.
By defnition, political appointees are
short-term, partisan and personality-ori-
ented, with little investment in, or com-
mitment to, the institution. As such, they
cannot provide an objective, institutional
view on matters of policy. Besides weak-
ening professionalism within the de-
partment, this engenders opportunism.
In the feld, the large number of am-
bassadorial appointments going to per-
sons with little exposure to the environ-
ment and practices of international
diplomacy deprives diplomatic missions
of strong leadership. Instead of merit and
competence, these appointments are of-
ten rewards for campaign contributions.
Tere are, of course, always persons of
outstanding quality and experience who
prove to be assets to U.S. diplomacy, but
they are not the rule. So we must ask two
questions. Can we build a strong Foreign
Service and Department of State with
such heavy politicization? And if not, is
there any appetite for change?
Besides political appointees, we face
a related challenge. Te Department of
State and USAID are home to two major
personnel systems: the General Schedule
(Civil Service) and the “excepted” Foreign
Service. Historically, there have been a
series of unsuccessful attempts to merge
these two divergent systems.
Only the Foreign Service can bring
to the conduct of diplomacy the agil-
ity, fexibility and suitability that come
from worldwide availability, rotation and
rank in person. Foreign Service ofcers
are subject to a variety of disciplines
and requirements that correspond to
the needs of diplomatic practice and
the international environment. (Let me
emphasize that Foreign Service spe-
cialists are a critical professional and
technical component in support of the
diplomatic mission.) However qualifed
they may be, Civil Service employees are
not subject to those requirements.
Te other elephant in the room is
intrinsic to the current structure of the
Foreign Service. Te cone system contin-
ues to channel FSOs into narrow tracks
which detract from playing the role and
developing the perspective required of a
diplomat, especially at senior levels. Such
an approach also fragments the Service
and militates against its cohesion, iden-
tity and strength.
We need to fnd a fresh approach
designed to build a strong diplomatic
service, and to strengthen the Depart-
ment of State as the premier institution
responsible for the formulation and
implementation of American foreign
policy. After all, a diplomat should be
a skilled facilitator with broad perspec-
tive and experience­—qualities that are
also important for those responsible for
leading the institution and inspiring the
diplomatic service.
Tese may appear to be provocative
thoughts. But we have only to look at the
diplomatic services of other major coun-
tries, some of which punch well above
their weight, to appreciate the relevance
of these issues.
Institutional Restructuring and Reform:
A Strategic Perspective
Susan R. Johnson is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.