The Foreign Service Journal - May 2014 - page 26

26
MAY 2014
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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
Jim Lamont, a Foreign Service officer from 1965 to 1991, wrote about
the Rogers Act for his doctoral dissertation, which he completed 50 years
ago. In studying the legislation, he became curious about what hap-
pened to the Foreign Service after its enactment, so he took the Foreign
Service exam to find out.
Larry Cohen, a Foreign Service officer from 1980 to 2007, is currently
AFSA’s vice president for retirees. He and Jim Lamont served together in
the economic section of Embassy Tegucigalpa from 1983 to 1985.
The Foreign Service Act of 1924, known as the Rogers Act, created the
U.S. Foreign Service as we know it today. Here is the story of how it happened.
BY J I M LAMONT AND LARRY COHEN
The Rogers
Act of 1924
N
inety years ago this month, the
Rogers Act, officially known as the
Foreign Service Act of 1924, merged
the Department of State’s Diplomatic
Service and Consular Service—sepa-
rate institutions since the nation’s
earliest days—into the United States
Foreign Service. Equally important,
it established a meritocracy-driven
personnel system, and established or extended vital allowances
and benefits that had been either lacking or seriously inadequate.
The need for such sweeping reform had been evident many
years before Representative John Jacob Rogers, R-Mass., intro-
IN THE BEGINNING
90TH ANNIVERSARY OF AFSA AND THE FOREIGN SERVICE
duced his first Foreign Service reform bill in 1919. A decade
earlier President Theodore Roosevelt had declared: “The spoils
system of making appointments to and removals from office is
so wholly and unmixedly evil, is so emphatically un-American
and undemocratic, and is so potent a force for degradation in our
public life, that it is difficult to believe that any intelligent man
of ordinary decency who has looked into the matter can be its
advocate. As a matter of fact, the arguments in favor of the merit
system against the spoils system are not only convincing; they are
absolutely unanswerable.”
The status quo was also inefficient. Although the Consular
Service was in dire need of modernization, it was widely seen
as business-oriented and was the more respected of the two
divisions. The Diplomatic Service lacked many attributes for an
effective professional career and was perceived by the public as
elitist and snobby. Little interaction occurred between the two
divisions, whose members followed unrelated career paths. Both
suffered from a dearth of essential benefits. Salaries were discour-
agingly low for consuls and ridiculously low for diplomats.
The leading internal catalyst for reform at State during the
early years of the 20th century was Wilbur John Carr. Born in
Ohio in 1870, Carr entered the State Department as a shorthand
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