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the Foreign Service journal
April 2013
ot for the frst time in the
nearly 90 years since the
Rogers Act established the
Foreign Service as a profes-
sional career cadre and the backbone of
the United States diplomatic service, our
Service faces an existential crisis. But we
also, to borrow from the Chinese, have an
opportunity for renewal.
After two terms as AFSA president,
I use the term “existential” because
support for the very concept of a profes-
sional career diplomatic service, with a
disciplined and agile personnel system
based on merit, rank in person and
worldwide availability, seems to have
eroded signifcantly. Tis is true not just
at the Department of State, U.S. Agency
for International Development and
other foreign afairs agencies, and in
Congress, but within our own ranks.
In the “State of the Union” article on
p. 27 of this issue—part of
Te Foreign
Service Journal
’s coverage of AFSA’s
40th anniversary as a union—four of my
predecessors refect on AFSA’s role and
responsibility to advocate for a profes-
sional career Foreign Service. Tey
argue persuasively that carrying out that
function is not a typical
defense of “union” turf, but
represents a commitment to
the higher purpose of strength-
ening America’s diplomacy.
Against this backdrop, I see the
following main challenges for
First, we must rebuild sup-
port for the professional Foreign
Service by increasing awareness of its
unique value.
Second, AFSA should continue to call
attention to the importance of fostering
institutional leaders imbued with long-
term perspective, Service discipline and a
commitment to producing broad-gauged
senior diplomats able to provide sound
foreign policy advice and to lead its
Finally, AFSA needs to strengthen its
own institutional capacity for advocacy
and negotiation to push this ambitious
Te Foreign Service Act of 1980 says a
professional, career Foreign Service “must
be preserved, strengthened and improved
in order to carry out its mission efectively
in response to the complex challenges
of modern diplomacy and international
relations.” Are these challenges not much
more complex today?
Between 1924 and the 1970s, the
Foreign Service presence within the
leadership of the State Department and
USAID grew slowly but steadily. But since
1980 its share of top positions has steadily
declined (from about 60 percent to 24
percent today) while political patronage
has increased. For the last four decades,
more than 70 percent of ambas-
sadorial appointments to key
posts in Europe and Asia have
been political, undermining the
very concept of a nonpartisan,
professional diplomatic service.
Tis disheartening trend is
just one, albeit signifcant, feature of the
decline of the professional character of
the Department of State and USAID—and
its stature. Te Foreign Service can no
longer claim a lead role in the formulation
and implementation of American foreign
policy; instead, it is being relegated to a
secondary function of staf support to an
outside elite that sets and manages policy.
To help rebuild a strong, efective For-
eign Service and increase public appre-
ciation of its important role, AFSA must
pursue eforts in three directions. First,
we must identify the factors that under-
mine the Foreign Service as an institution,
highlighting areas that require attention
to reform the Service. Tis will be the
subject of my next column.
Second, AFSA must devote serious
thought to defning the requirements of
diplomacy as a profession and how they
apply to the individual American diplo-
mat today. And third, AFSA must expand
its advocacy on behalf of the Foreign Ser-
vice with the Secretary of State, the White
House and Capitol Hill—for example, by
working with members of Congress to
establish a Foreign Service caucus.
In order to accomplish these objec-
tives, especially strong and efective
advocacy, AFSA will have to build its
own institutional capacity. Among other
things, this may necessitate restructuring
its professional staf and clarifying the
role of its elected governing board.
As always, I welcome your input.
Please write me at
AFSA and the Foreign Service:
The Road Ahead
By Susan R . Johnson
President’s Views
Susan R. Johnson is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.