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APRIL 2016


ited personnel in each other’s country, or

the conduct of diplomacy


In essence, the Department of State is

about dealing with foreign governments,

foreign countries, foreign conditions and

foreign citizens—Dean Acheson’s “vast

external realm.”

The Core Professional


These fundamental characteristics

are crucial for organizational matters

such as budgets, management processes

and, most important, personnel. The U.S.

Congress recognized this in creating the

professional Foreign Service in 1924 and

reinforced that view in later versions of the

basic legislation.

The latest, the Foreign Service Act

of 1980, clearly states: “The scope and

complexity of the foreign affairs of the

Nation have heightened the need for a

professional foreign service that will serve

the foreign affairs interests of the United

States in an integrated fashion and that can

provide a resource of qualified personnel

for the President, the Secretary of State

and the agencies concerned with foreign


The Foreign Service was obviously

intended by Congress to provide the

professional cadre for the conduct of

diplomacy, analogous to the role of the

uniformedmilitary for the exercise of the

military arm. It follows that the primary

objective of the State Department’s per-

sonnel system is to provide an adequate

and dependable streamof professional

experts to work in diplomacy.

The special character of diplomacy

led Congress to define the characteristics

of the personnel system required for the

Department of State. The Foreign Service

is to be a professional meritocracy: a corps

recruited by competitive examination, pro-

moted by competitive merit and available

for worldwide service tomeet the needs of

the nation.

This cadre is subject to very specific

employment requirements starting with

the entry examination process and includ-

ing tenure, language proficiency, fair-share

service, competitive annual evaluation, up

or out andmandatory retirement at age 65.

These are the same principles applied

to employment in other specialized agen-

cies of the U.S. government, such as the

military services, the Federal Bureau of

Investigation and the Central Intelligence

Agency. The Foreign Service, in other

words, was intended to be the core profes-

sional staff of the Department of State.

This role was clarified and emphasized

by the Wriston reforms of the early 1950s

that essentially eliminated the separation

between foreign and home service by

merging the international affairs profes-

sionals of the department’s Civil Service

into the Foreign Service.

Losing Focus

Over the years, however, State’s person-

nel systemhas lost this focus as the depart-

ment expanded and wandered away from

its core mission. Other personnel systems

have grown like Topsy. The extent of State’s

divergence from legislative injunction is

well described in the recent report, “Ameri- can Diplomacy at Risk,” by the American

Academy of Diplomacy.

This personnel shift was never promul-

gated as official policy by any president or

Congress, but appears to have occurred

through a gradual process of adminis-

trative creep. It has produced serious

management problems with respect to

the staffing of both the department and

its overseas posts, by diminishing the

resources and operational flexibility of the

Foreign Service.

While this may not be as dangerous

to the republic as using non-soldiers (i.e.,

civilians) to conduct war, it is not an ideal

way to conduct the nation’s business.

The State Department has attempted to

bridge over this growing gap by formulat-

ing the slogan “One Team, One Mission.”

But that only fudges the issue. Which

team? Congress decided in 1924 that the

United States needed a professional dip-

lomatic cadre, recruited andmanaged in

accordance with the principles of merito-

cratic competition, group discipline and

worldwide service at the discretion of the

Department of State.

Congress reiterated that decision in the

Foreign Service Acts of 1946 and 1980. In

the early 1950s, Congress extended that

personnel decision to the headquarters

of the Department of State itself with the

Wriston reforms, which pointed toward

a single personnel systemorganized on

Foreign Service lines and principles.

However, in the past several decades,

State management has moved away from

that system and expanded a General

Schedule personnel systemwithout formal

congressional authority or mandate. State

now has two personnel systems, operating

on different principles, undermining the

congressional (and national) decision to

create and operate a distinct professional

diplomatic team. (Actually there are now

four such systems, if you count political

appointees of various stripes, as well as


In doing this, State appears to be

returning to the pre-Wriston days when

there was a gulf between headquarters

and the field (the bane of all large and

widespread organizations). This is the

inevitable result of a bifurcation of person-

nel between those recruited, employed

and professionally focused on the main

characteristic of international diplomacy,

on the one hand; and home-based per-

sonnel, recruited and employed on Civil

Service standards who largely remain in