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the Foreign Service journal
april 2013
n early August 2000, a handful of State
Department employees from both the
Civil Service and the Foreign Service
met for lunch at the now defunct Les
Halles restaurant on Pennsylvania
Avenue. Te animated conversation
during the noon hour had little to do
with the food, but rather focused on the group’s
concerns about the diminished role and capac-
ity of the State Department and the urgent need
for wide-ranging reforms. Some of us were
familiar with a 2000 Senior Seminar research
paper, “Developing Diplomats for 2010,” which
provided useful background for our discussions.
Te group was dismayed over the impact
of budget cuts on departmental operations at
home and abroad, and frustrated in dealing
with the department’s structural rigidities.
While the rest of the world was rushing to
embrace Internet-based computer technology, for instance,
State continued to limp along with outdated Wang equipment.
Its internal procedures were so clogged that it took two years to
implement a reform as simple as printing diplomatic notes on
letter-sized, rather than legal-sized, paper.
Troughout the 1990s, Foggy Bottom had
tried to cope with reduced funding by hiring
at just 75 percent of Foreign Service ofcer
attrition, 50 percent of FS specialist attrition
and 50 percent of Civil Service attrition. As
a result, vacant positions and long stafng
gaps became the norm at most embassies and
consulates. And as the August 1998 terrorist
attacks on our embassies in Nairobi and Dar
es Salaam had shown, our buildings were not
safe places fromwhich to conduct the nation’s
diplomatic business.
We adjourned from lunch that day with
a two-part resolve. First, we would reach out
to our State Department colleagues and seek
their personal accounts of the impact of the
fnancial and management shortcomings on
departmental operations at home and abroad.
Second, we would craft a message of needed change and reform
and address it to the next Secretary of State.
As a shorthand description of our efort, we adopted the slo-
gan, “SOS for DOS.”
SOS for DOS,
13 Years Later
Back in 2000, a group of FSOs
led eforts to publicize and elevate
the need for change at State.
Is it time for another
grassroots campaign?
By Ted Str i ckl er