The Foreign Service Journal - July/August 2014 - page 19

If there is any indicator of future
ambassadorial success, it is probably
more a function of personality and the
ability to effectivelymanage people.
Career officers with extensive
experience can fail as well as politi-
cal appointees. To test the question of
whether there is a measurable difference
between the performance of political
appointee ambassadors and career
ones, I had four graduate students read
the 139 inspection reports that the
Office of the Inspector General had at
that point posted on the IG’s website.
They included 98 embassies with career
COMs and 41 political appointees.
The students were asked to assign
two grades to each ambassador: one for
internal mission management and the
other for external relations. While the
average grades for the career officers
were slightly higher for both catego-
ries, the difference was not statistically
The career ambassadors were more
tightly grouped around the average-to-
good rating, while the political appoin-
tees had a flatter and wider distribution.
This tends to confirm what many believe
based on anecdotal evidence—that
political appointees are more likely to be
either superb or bad ambassadors, with
fewer falling in the middle of the range
where career officers tend to cluster.
Bad ambassadors, whether career or
political, could be avoided if there were
a way to determine in advance what
the qualifications for success are. That
is not easy, and other professions have
tried with little success. The American
Bar Association does a thorough review
of the background and experience of
judicial nominees and declares each of
them to be highly qualified, qualified or
The clearest measure of the perfor-
mance of a judge is how often a higher
court overrules his or her decisions. A
recent study found little difference in the
reversal rates of judges, regardless of the
ABA categories in which they had been
placed. An a priori ranking that some
deem a true indicator of success may not
work for ambassadors any more than it
does with judges.
In addition, every chief of mission
has a career officer for a deputy. The
deficiencies of a COM can be compen-
sated for if the ambassador is smart
enough and trusting enough to make
good use of the DCM.
If there is any indicator of future
ambassadorial success, it is probably
more a function of personality and the
ability to effectively manage people—
and that is as true for career COMs as it
is for the political ones. However, mana-
gerial skill and personality traits are not
readily conveyed by basic biographic
Performance Measures
But there is an opportunity to make
modest improvement in the way chiefs
of mission are selected. Ambassadors
do not have a readily available measure
of performance as judges do, but a visit
by a team from the Inspector General’s
office results in a detailed evaluation
of how well an embassy is being run.
Those reports, now on the IG’s website
with minimal redaction, are available for
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