The Foreign Service Journal - April 2014 - page 18

APRIL 2014
The organizers strove for an even split in
the sessions between substantive policy
issues and leadership practices.
vice Institute, the Powell Fellows Pro-
gram selected a dozen or so mid-level
Foreign Service officers and specialists,
Civil Service employees at the GS-12 or
GS-13 level and at least one officer from
USAID, all of whom were seen to have
leadership potential.
The selectees always included officers
in Washington and overseas, and they
were nominated by bureau assistant sec-
retaries. A small committee made up of
the Foreign Service director general, the
Foreign Service Institute director and
the executive secretary then vetted the
nominations and proposed a slate to the
Secretary of State.
Once the group was set—the first
year saw 13 participants selected from
70-plus nominations—participants were
brought together three or four times
throughout the year for three days of
These sessions would feature high-
level State Department leaders, includ-
ing the Secretary of State, who would
speak to the group for a minimum of an
hour. The sessions focused on specific
themes developed jointly by FSI and the
department’s seventh floor, such as the
workings of the interagency process or
management challenges across the Civil
Service-Foreign Service divide.
The organizers strove for an even
split in the sessions between substantive
policy issues and leadership practices.
In total, the program cost about $50,000
per year, according to former FSI Direc-
tor Ruth Whiteside, who was intimately
involved in running it.
According to former Powell Fellows,
the program more than accomplished
its goals, and created an alternative way
for the department to recognize its star
achievers. As one participant put it:
“While promotions have a mandatory
wait of at least three years, and State’s
awards system is ineffective, the Powell
Fellows program gave the department a
useful and helpful way to, once a year,
select the best of the best.”
Beyond the actual content of the
quarterly training sessions, participants
report that the program gave them an
instant network of top leaders, which
brought with it links and opportunities
they would not have otherwise had. One
told me that many of his colleagues had
landed highly sought-after positions and
opportunities at State and other agen-
cies due to contacts they’d made during
the program.
So what happened to the Powell Fel-
lows Program? After three yearlong runs
(2005-2008), it simply ended during the
transition from Secretary Rice to Secre-
tary Hillary Rodham Clinton. One Fellow
told me it “fell through the cracks” despite
transition memos passed between the
two administrations and Clinton staffers
being briefed on the program.
Bring It Back
The State Department should bring
back the Powell Fellows Program and, in
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