the Foreign Service journal
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
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
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
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
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,
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