The Foreign Service Journal - May 2014 - page 20

MAY 2014
In 1900 the U.S. had 41
diplomatic missions and 318
consular establishments—and
just 91 domestic employees,
including the Secretary of State.
maintain political rela-
tions with foreign powers; a
consular service to protect
American seamen and
other citizens, and attend to
American maritime interests
generally; and a home or
departmental service to take
care of matters in the capital.
“The great rule of
conduct for us in regard
to foreign nations,” said President George Washington, “is, in
extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little
political connection as possible.” In line with this doctrine,
the consular service far outnumbered the diplomatic service,
which far outnumbered the home service.
As late as 1900, when the United States was an emerging world
power with a two-ocean navy, a colony in the Philippines and
a rising global financial center in New York, there were only 41
diplomatic missions compared with 318 consular establishments
(not counting some 400 more consular agencies). To oversee and
support this far-flung network, filled with patronage appoint-
ments, the department had just 91 employees, including the
Secretary of State.
At the turn of the 20th century, according to historian Tyler
Dennet, the Department of State was “an antiquated, feeble
organization, enslaved by precedents and routine … remote from
the public gaze and indifferent to it.” For diplomats and consuls
alike, salaries were low and allowances, other than modest sums
for rental of office space, essentially nonexistent.
Business and shipping interests complained that the consular
service, in particular, served them poorly. Wilbur Carr, then
head of the department’s consular bureau, began working with
Representative John Rogers of Massachusetts in 1919 to produce
a bill to “amalgamate” and professionalize the consular and
diplomatic services.
The Foreign Service Act
of 1924, generally known
as the Rogers Act, passed
after three years of debate,
combining the two services
into a single Foreign Service
of the United States, with
entry by competitive exami-
nation, promotion by merit,
mandatory retirement, a
pension system and other
features that remain in place today (see p. 26).
Personnel Structure under the Rogers Act
The personnel structure of the Foreign Service as conceived
in the 1924 Act was a flow-through system, bringing new
members in at the bottom and moving them through ranks
that emptied with promotions or retirements, by reason of age
or time in grade. The system was rotational, with members
expected to move periodically from station to station. Officers
in the Foreign Service would compete against each other, with
the top performers advancing and the worst performers facing
possible dismissal.
By contrast, the Civil Service system, introduced to the
Department of State in the early 20th century through a series
of executive orders, was static. Members did not necessarily
enter at the bottom, and they advanced in grade only by mov-
ing to more highly rated—more challenging and more respon-
sible—positions. They had a high degree of job security and
were not expected to move periodically from one assignment
to another.
The principal difference, however, was that members of the
Foreign Service expected to spend roughly 90 percent of their
time overseas. Members of the Civil Service, with a few excep-
tions, worked only in the United States.
The exceptions were outside the State Department. Congress
established a Foreign Commerce Service in the Commerce
Department (1927-1939) and a Foreign Agricultural Service
in the Department of Agriculture (1930-1939), and provided
overseas postings for employees of the Interior Department’s
Bureau of Mines (1935-1943). Employees of all three agencies
remained in the Civil Service when sent abroad. When austerity
and war later shut both organizations down, their members were
reassigned to the Department of State and welcomed into the
Foreign Service. Congress revived the FAS in 1954 and the FCS
in 1980, and both services adopted the Foreign Service system
Harry Kopp, a former FSO and international trade consultant, was
deputy assistant secretary of State for international trade policy in the
Carter and Reagan administrations; his foreign assignments included
Warsaw and Brasilia. He is the author of
Commercial Diplomacy
and the National Interest
(Academy of Diplomacy, 2004) and the co-
author of
Career Diplomacy: Life andWork in the U.S. Foreign Service
(Georgetown University Press, 2011). He is nowwriting a history of the
American Foreign Service Association, and some of the material in this
article will appear in different form in that work.
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