The Foreign Service Journal - May 2014 - page 21

MAY 2014
Despite repeated calls to move
to a unitary personnel structure,
like most other federal agencies,
the State Department has
refused to act.
after passage of the Foreign
Service Act of 1980.
Broken by War
World War II broke the
Foreign Service, as it broke so
many institutions. Recruit-
ment was halted to avoid
interference with the military
draft, leading the increas-
ingly short-handed department to implore its senior officers to
stay on the job as long as possible. Under the Rogers Act, the
percentage of officers in each of the top six (of nine) ranks was
strictly limited: no more than 6 percent, for example, could be in
Class 1, the highest rank, and no more than 14 percent in Class
6. The percentage caps, lifted finally in 1945, effectively blocked
promotions. As officers grew frustrated, many resigned to join the
armed forces.
In 1941 Congress addressed the shortage by authorizing the
department to form a Foreign Service Auxiliary of people hired
outside the examination process, to serve for the duration of the
war. Auxiliary personnel were paid according to their civilian
experience and sometimes outearned regular Foreign Service
officers doing similar work. Many had skills in economics and
finance that regular FSOs often disparaged as technical or “spe-
By 1943 planning for a postwar world was already underway.
The department’s top administrative official, a career member
of the Foreign Service named G. Howland Shaw, saw a need to
retain the skills that the Auxiliary had brought into the service.
Regular career FSOs feared that an influx of Auxiliary personnel
into the career would inhibit their own advancement. A Decem-
ber 1943
Foreign Service Journal
editorial defended the “versatil-
ity and adaptability” of the “trained Foreign Service officer” who
is “better fitted to handle the coming postwar duties than any
group of specialists or technicians recruited from civil life.”
But the hiring freeze in the career service had made that think-
ing irrelevant. In January 1946, the 976 officers in the Auxiliary
outnumbered the 820 officers of the regular career corps. Under
the Manpower Act of 1946, the department held examinations
that brought 360 new officers into the career service at all but the
most senior grades. The new officers came from the Auxiliary, the
military and the Civil Service, or had been clerks and vice consuls
in the non-career Foreign Service.
A July 1945
Washington Post
editorial called for “a complete
overhaul and radical expansion of the State Department,” includ-
ing “democratization of
the Foreign Service.” The
Bureau of the Budget urged
Secretary of State James F.
Byrnes to place the depart-
ment’s Foreign Service and
Civil Service employees in
a single system. Foreign
Service personnel, said the
BOB, would benefit from
more time in the department, and Civil Service personnel would
gain from tours abroad.
The bureau also recommended recruitment and hiring into
the middle and upper grades of the Foreign Service, to break
down its closed, elite structure. It argued, as well, for more atten-
tion to building leadership, supervisory and administrative skills
through systematic training for all of the department’s employees.
Seldin Chapin and the 1946 Act
Seldin Chapin, head of the department’s Office of Foreign
Service (a position roughly equivalent to today’s director general
of the Foreign Service), led a study group that proposed a 10-year
transition to a consolidated service whose members would all
serve at home and abroad. But consolidation, even over a decade,
would surely have met resistance from the career Foreign Service,
and likely from the home service as well.
State management did not want to deal with such friction, and
turned aside Chapin’s recommendation. Instead, it directed him
to work on legislation to preserve a separate Foreign Service.
The Foreign Service Act of 1946 evolved from Chapin’s efforts.
It created a service that included an officer corps, a staff officer
corps (providing a career for the non-career clerks) and a reserve.
Reserve officers held commissions for up to five years and were
often chosen for their specialized skills and knowledge.
Staff, reserve and regular officers were all on the same pay
scale and received similar benefits. The foreign and home ser-
vices remained separate, but members of the home service, the
staff officer corps and the reserve corps with at least four years of
experience (or three years for those over the age of 31) could seek
lateral entry into any but the highest level of the Foreign Service.
Chapin, a career FSO, was a graduate of the Naval Academy.
His legislative draft introduced several features of the Navy’s per-
sonnel system to the Foreign Service, notably “promotion up or
selection out”—mandatory retirement of regular (but not staff or
reserve) officers repeatedly passed over for promotion or repeat-
edly ranked at the bottom of their class.
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