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the Foreign Service journal


April 2015


olleagues, I want to share

with you the meat of a memo

I sent to the participants in

the Secretary’s senior retreat

held on March 11. It previews a specific

proposal that AFSA made to the Director

General to revise the Schedule B hiring

authority and cap the number of political-

appointee deputy assistant secretaries.

Over the past months, several of you

have raised with me the question of how

to identify the next Bill Burns, the next

Foreign Service leader.

Finding the next Bill Burns is more

akin to farming than hunting. It is not

about spotting and bagging the single

most-talented person in the bureaucracy.

It is about cultivating and preserving

a personnel system that allows talented

career people like Bill to rise up. It is

about trusting the department’s ethos of

selecting career employees for the great

majority of mid-level manager DAS and

most senior leadership assistant secretary

and under secretary positions.

Underpinning that ethos is a belief that

career employees bring the field experi-

ence and perspective critical to crafting

and implementing our policies.

This system is in need of the kind of

urgent repair that should be doable in the

last two years of an administration. Little

by little, position

by position, career

talent is being

marginalized, and

it doesn’t take

long before a lack

of opportunity for

advancement leads to a self-fulfilling lack

of available career talent.

Let’s stay with Bill Burns, and consider

two of his positions that led to wider

responsibilities. From 1988 to 1991, Bill

served as the principal deputy director of

the Secretary’s policy planning staff, his

first major policy job. That position long

ago shifted to political appointees. From

2005 to 2008, Bill served as ambassador to

Moscow before returning to Washington

as under secretary for political affairs.

In the last five years, that job has gone,

first, to a political appointee and then to a

retired FSO.

Now there are other ways for career

employees to move up other than Bill’s

specific path. Probably there are under-

standable reasons why each of these jobs

was taken out of the Foreign Service.

But the cumulative effect of removing

these and many other positions from the

bidding pool is a failure to cultivate the

Foreign Service talent system.

I ask your help in prioritizing the

advancement of career FSOs because

preserving that system is, in my view, best

for our country’s foreign policy interests.

What is to be done? I suggest two

things, one easy and the other harder.

The easier part is to focus on ambassa-

dorships. U.S. law states that they should

normally be accorded to Foreign Service

members. We should continue to push,

through the Deputies Committee and

other means, for strong career candidates

for each and every one of the remaining

ambassadorships in this administration.

AFSA’s concern with ambassadorships

is not solely about the number of career

versus political appointments. It is also

about keeping those with high policy rel-

evance from going political. Focusing on

ambassadors is relatively easy because, in

the end, nominating them is the presi-

dent’s prerogative, and all we can do is try

our best.

The harder part is to focus on senior

positions in the department. I suggest

as a pragmatic matter focusing on those

hired under Schedule B authority. Sched-

ule Bs were originally intended as subject

matter experts and technical advisers

needed for non-recurring limited-term

purposes. These hires are within the sole

purview of the State Department.

I suggest two measures. First, let’s

return Schedule B hiring to its original

purpose of technical experts needed for

one-off assignments.

Second, let’s allow no exceptions to

the existing guidance that Schedule Bs

not supervise career staff. And let’s cap

the overall number of political-appointee

DASs of any kind.

I ask for your support to allow the

Director General to undertake this hard

work of limiting Schedule B hires and

capping political DASs. If we can agree

on this measure, we will have taken an

important step to ensure our country will

have more career officials like Bill Burns

at the top in the future.

Be well, stay safe and keep in touch,



President’s Views

Robert J. Silverman is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.

How to Find the Next Bill Burns

BY Robert J . S i lverman