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JUNE 2016



TheWashington Conceit

In my January column I

discussed the existential

threats to the Foreign Service

of politicization of policy and

personnel, homogenization of

the Foreign and Civil Services

and nullification of the Foreign

Service Act of 1980 and its

merit-based system.

In addition to the damage

to the Service discussed in

January, there is an equally

negative impact on foreign

policy itself as a result of

these trends. I call it the

“Washington Conceit.”

The reality is that foreign

policy “happens” overseas.

Foreign nations make their

decisions on political, eco-

nomic and military interests

in their own capitals—not in

Washington. The human tar-

gets of our public diplomacy

are overseas—not inWash-

ington. Obviously the projects

that sustain development

diplomacy are overseas—not

inWashington. And, of course,

practical comprehension of

developments and dynamics

in other countries is essential

to foreign policy formulation

in the first place.

Many important things do

happen inWashington: policy

decisions on the highest-level

issues (perhaps a dozen or

so) are made inWashington;

administrative support is cen-

tered here; and our income

via congressional appropria-

tions is generated here.

But foreign policy itself

happens out there. That

is why John Kerry seldom

sleeps in his own bed. He is

overseas where foreign policy

happens. The Foreign Service

is there also.

If the locus of foreign

policy is overseas, why are

most of our human resources

in Washington? There are

multiple reasons, of course.

But I believe there are two

main drivers of this phenom-


First, political elites and

staffers who want to estab-

lish their foreign policy

“chops” are largely limited to

domestic assignments. Most

probably prefer Washing-

ton, which has no foreign

language requirements and

presents neither danger nor


There are about 60 politi-

cally appointed Ambassadors

at any one time. But there are

at least 10 times that number

of politically appointed posi-

tions in the department from

Deputy Secretaries to under

secretaries to their clerical


In addition there are now

almost 60 special envoys,

special representatives and

“other senior officials” with

accompanying staffs. This

influx is largely composed of

individuals with no experi-

ence in the implementation

of foreign policy at our 250

embassies and consulates


The second driver is

the dramatic increase in

General Service positions

and personnel in the State

Department. Since 2009

about 1,700 additional Civil

Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA Retiree VP.


| (202) 338-4045




Service officials have been

hired, most as “foreign affairs

officers” encumbering posi-

tions in the functional and

geographic bureaus. Very few

have overseas foreign policy

experience at posts abroad,

and none are subject to

worldwide availability require-


Taken together, the Deputy

Secretaries, under secretar-

ies, other political appointees,

schedule B and C personnel,

Civil Service employees Spe-

cial Government Employees

and “special representatives”

and their staffs constitute

the vast majority of the State

Department’s staffing.

They share a lack of

experience in conducting

diplomacy on the ground

overseas. Moreover, they

believe that Washington is

the center of the foreign

policy universe, and tend

to discount the field per-

spective. This “Washington

Conceit” reduces the quality

of our foreign policy, and that

is dangerous for the national

security of the United States

and its citizens.


AFSA Governing Board Change

Due to the frequent moves

that are part of Foreign

Service life, Governing Board

members are frequently

deployed abroad before the

end of their term. State Repre-

sentative Margaret Hawthorne

attended her final Governing

Board meeting in April, as she

has been appointed Consul

General and Chief of Mission


tion immediately.

A career diplomat,

Donovan joined the

Foreign Service in

1999 and served

his first tours in

Guatemala and

Rome. From 2007

to 2009, he coordi-

nated regional security initia-

tives in Southeast Asia, then

served as deputy economic

chief in New Delhi. Recalled to

Washington in 2012, Donovan

served on the National Secu-

rity Council for South Asia and

then as the deputy director

for Western Europe in State’s

European Bureau. He cur-

rently serves as the director of

the Office of Multilateral and

Global Affairs in the Bureau

of Democracy, Human Rights

and Labor.


in Curacao.We

thank her for

her service and

congratulate her

on her new role.

As called for

by the AFSA

bylaws, the

Governing Board

has appointed a replacement:

Jason Donovan to fill this posi-