The Foreign Service Journal - June 2017
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JUNE 2017



Service officer when making the choice. It

certainly wasn’t the case when Colin Pow-

ell succeeded me. The president looked

upon him as an individual. He had worked

with him; he had confidence in him. I

don’t think that there is any institutional

bias in the White House against picking

FSOs as national security advisors. On the

other hand, the various presidents, from

time to time, have expressed views about

the Foreign Service, not all of which have

been complimentary.

To the best of your knowledge, how

has Cabinet-level decision-making

involving the State Department, the

Defense Department and the National

Security Council changed in the past

two years? What is the role of ideology today?

All I can do is address the current situation. I think most people

are agreed that the working relationships between State, Defense

and the National Security Council have never been better. When

we are in town, [Secretary of State] George [Shultz], [National

Security Council Chairman] Colin [Powell] and I meet every

morning at 7 a.m. Nobody else is in the room, which is unusual in

itself. I can’t recall this ever happening before. We compare notes

every day, and on Mondays we talk about longer-range matters.

We are in constant communication. This doesn’t mean we agree

all the time. Where we disagree, we sort it out in private. So, my

own feeling is that the relationships are now excellent.

As far as ideology is concerned, it’s the president who sets the

tone for the administration; it’s his responsibility to deal with the

broad policy issues, the public posture and the role of ideology.

The secretaries of Defense and State, and the national security

advisor are not independent entities; we are appointed by the

president to respond to his guidance.

Given the enormous and sprawling nature of government

departments, what thoughts do you—as the head of the largest

of these—have on controlling policy activities across a wide

array of complex issues?

The key throughout my years has been to appoint good

people, and change them if they don’t work out. What you have to

do once you move into one of these jobs is to make your person-

nel moves quickly, because if you don’t, you get caught up in the

day-to-day business and never make them.

I’ve been a little handicapped in this job because of the pro-

longed confirmation process and it being so late in the adminis-

tration, I haven’t been

able to make a large

number of changes. I

have made some. Anyone

who comes into an

agency—even a modest-

sized one—thinking he

can run it all by himself is

in for a very rough time.

Also, to the degree

that you can, you have

to make sure that the

lines of responsibility and

accountability are clear.

That’s always a problem in

government because Con-

gress—particularly with the

Department of Defense—

likes to interfere with those lines. There’s hardly a bill that comes

out of Congress that doesn’t have some operational change for

the Defense Department. Finally, you need to motivate your

people so that they can assume the full degree of responsibility

they are accorded.

Fifteen years ago you said that some of the finest manage-

ment talent in the world serves in the federal government.

Would youmake the same claim today?

I think yes. I think we have very fine management talent, but I

have to say in all candor that sometimes I think we’re losing it. It’s

very hard to get people to serve in the government today. It’s much

harder than it was 15 years ago. There’s the question of compensa-

tion, which is a very real question. There’s the question of divesti-

ture. There’s the question of constant exposure to public criticism.

But probably most serious of all is that the process itself

has become so complicated. It’s very difficult to get somebody

through the process, and it becomes increasingly hard to achieve

your goals. Most people come into the government because

they’re goal-oriented, they have a certain amount of idealism, a

certain amount of conviction, and want to achieve something.

Now, today, with the tension between the executive and

legislative branches, with all the regulations and legislation, and

the tendency for every policy decision to become public before

it is necessarily finalized or can be defended, it is very difficult to

accomplish things. Also, there’s the tendency of some politicians

in both parties to make government employees political scape-

goats. I think we have good people, but we need to worry about

retaining them.