Page 7 - FSJ_May12

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M A Y 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
It is time for Foreign Serv-
ice officers to explain who they
are, what they do and what the
personnel term “generalist” re-
ally means. In the context of a
disciplined, national diplomatic
service, it signifies a multifac-
eted, multifunctional officer, expert in
the practice and art of diplomacy.
As with their military counterparts,
FSOs are commissioned officers who
have earned their status via a rigorous
selection process, followed by highly
competitive evaluations for promotion.
No one thinks it makes sense to hire
bird colonels from outside the ranks of
the career military; the same principle
should apply to our diplomatic service.
In previous columns, I have high-
lighted diplomacy as a forward-based,
strategic asset for our national security
and for the coordinated promotion of
American interests and values overseas.
For this purpose, an effective diplo-
matic service is indispensable to help
U.S. policymakers exercise American
leadership in an increasingly complex
world. And can we better do that
through a well-regulated apprentice-
ship system that recruits and grooms
broad-based talent purposefully, or one
that cherry-picks temporary expertise
from outside the Foreign Service for
one-off overseas assignments?
The answer should be obvious. The
current Foreign Service personnel sys-
tem has repeatedly demonstrated its
ability to produce a first-rate
diplomatic service. It recruits
generalists via a single com-
petitive selection process open
to all, and ensures that en-
trants are subject to service
discipline and worldwide avail-
ability. Then, through assignments that
ensure a mix of policy andmanagement
experience, as well as bilateral, regional
and multilateral expertise, it develops
and prepares a cadre of able profes-
sionals for executive responsibilities.
Although the Foreign Service Act of
1980 is more recent, the 1946 Foreign
Service Act embodies a more purpose-
ful vision of the system that should un-
dergird U.S. diplomacy. Modeled on
the Navy’s personnel system, it re-
stricted political patronage in favor of a
non-partisan cadre of diplomatic serv-
ice professionals.
Three decades ago, the Foreign
Service was the central component of
the State Department. Increasingly,
however, this has become less true as
the ranks of the Civil Service and the
number of political appointments have
expanded. In fact, today the Foreign
Service’s role is substantially dimin-
ished, especially in front offices and in
the functional/global policy bureaus.
In the public eye and even within
the State Department, the vague term
“generalist” sells FSOs short and di-
minishes the brand. In personnel lingo
the termmeans that, in contrast to hav-
ing a single, narrow, technical field of
expertise—e.g., climate change, infor-
mation technology, etc. — the general-
ist officer ought to possess a broad and
deep educational background in U.S.
history and government, political and
economic theory and practice, as well
as cross-cultural communication skills
and management and leadership po-
tential. Those qualifications must be
complemented by personal attributes
of integrity, courage and adaptability to
constantly changing environments.
Moreover, to perform effectively,
FSOs need in-depth knowledge of the
diplomatic system and functions, in-
cluding consular, which underlie inter-
national order and negotiating pro-
cesses. Such qualifications are not ac-
quired overnight; nor are they easily at-
tained outside the setting in which they
must eventually be used.
Diplomatic service is a demanding
and often dangerous profession.
Though today’s Foreign Service aims
to promote excellence and is based on
meritocratic selection, it is not elitist
but broadly representative of the
United States as a whole, and open to
To ensure the desired caliber of pro-
fessional diplomatic leadership, today’s
State Department leadership must
make the case for professional educa-
tion and training, improve assignment
policies and formulate clearer criteria
for career advancement.
Time for FSOs to Stand Up
for the Foreign Service
R. J