Page 36 - Foreign Service Journal - April 2013

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april 2013
the foreign Service journal
it had to be embraced by the rank and fle, as well as by manage-
ment. Fortunately, while management tended to analyze prob-
lems from a macro, top-down perspective, we saw the issues from
the inside and from the bottom up.
In discussing how to publicize our message, we knew that
numerous previous studies of the State Department, some by
prestigious think-tanks, had produced little in the way of mean-
ingful results and enduring change. We were determined not to
produce yet another report that few would read and that would
end up on a dusty shelf. Instead, we agreed that we should draft
a letter expressing our collective views and have our Foreign
Service and Civil Service colleagues endorse it.
Furthermore, since our initiative could be seen as criticiz-
ing the outgoing administration, we decided to address our
concerns to the incoming Secretary of State, in the hope that he
or she would be more open and receptive to our views. After 11
drafts, we released the fnal version of our letter on Oct. 20, 2000,
which declared: “Te Department of State is ill-equipped and
ill-prepared to meet the foreign policy challenges of the 21st cen-
tury. Outdated procedures and chronic resource shortages have
taken their toll. Te organizational structure is dysfunctional, its
staf overextended…and the State Department’s traditions block
needed change.”
We therefore sought the new administration’s “support,
involvement and leadership to undertake a long-term, nonparti-
san efort to modernize and strengthen the Department of State.”
In closing, our letter stated: “Te country needs a well-equipped,
adequately stafed and modernized foreign policy institution,”
and called for “bold and decisive steps now to deal efectively
with the problems of today, while preparing for the challenges of
the future—a future that is as close as tomorrow.”
A Parallel Campaign
Lacking access to Facebook or other social media, we
pursued our campaign by buttonholing colleagues in the
department cafeteria during the noon hour and with e-mails to
overseas colleagues. AFSA pitched in by setting up a dedicated
Web site containing the text of the letter and related SOS for DOS
Initial support grew slowly, before three developments that
During his 34-year Foreign Service career, Ted Strickler served in
Somalia, Ethiopia, Germany, Sudan, Egypt, Switzerland and Italy. A
member of the SOS for DOS steering committee, he was later the 2002
winner of AFSA’s Christian A. Herter Award for constructive dissent by
a Senior Foreign Service ofcer.
Horror Stories from the Field
As our campaign slowly gained momentum, we heard from
numerous individuals who described their battles to cope with
the consequences of inadequate resources, often compounded
by poor management. Here are a few examples:
• Junior ofcers at an Asian post attempted to form an infor-
mal, unofcial JO association, but were met with resistance and
eventually blocked by post management. Tey were told not to
worry about anything other than their individual careers and to
“look out for yourself and nobody else.” What started as a very
enthusiastic group of new ofcers eager to work in the consular
section ended with many pronouncing themselves “demoral-
ized.” Several considered resignation.
• An economic counselor serving at a Latin American post
reported being told that the post did not have blank compact
discs available, or funds to buy them, to make 20 additional
copies of a CD-ROM detailing anti-counterfeiting techniques for
distribution to the host government banking community.
• In a moving and graphic letter of resignation from the
Foreign Service, one ofcer expressed a passionate belief in “the
importance of our mission,” but went on to say that “the profes-
sional environment has fnally become untenable for me. Tere is
no more ‘more’ that I can do with less and less.”
• An ofce management specialist working for the ambassa-
dor at a post in Africa described her assignment as “going back in
time,” referring to the outdated IT equipment and lack of classi-
fed e-mail capability at post. Similarly, an information program
ofcer lamented the department’s lack of a “baseline commu-
nications system to give everyone in the feld desktop access to
OpenNet, full-service Internet and ClassNet, and all incoming/
outgoing cable trafc.”
Part of the Problem—and the Solution
We quickly realized that for any reform efort to be successful,
Numerous colleagues described their battles to
cope with the consequences of inadequate resources,
often compounded by poor management.