Page 57 - Foreign Service Journal - September 2013

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assistant secretary level and above—i.e., under secretaries
and deputy secretaries—held by FSOs at State has plum-
meted from about 60 percent to about 24 percent at the end of
2012. According to the State Department’s own fgures (which
depend on electronic data and begin 10 years later) measuring
assistant secretary and equivalent positions, but not the more
senior positions, the Foreign Service role has shrunk steadily
from 44 percent of the positions in 1982 to only 25 percent of
these positions in 2012. By either measure,the Foreign Service
has been relegated to a distinct minority in the senior policy
ranks at State.
While we do not claim expertise on the U.S. Agency for
International Development, the situation for FSOs serving in
Senate-confrmed positions there appears even worse, with
only two USAID FSOs attaining such positions in the past
Te number of State FSOs serving as deputy assistant
secretaries and in equivalent positions also appears to have
sufered a decline. While the department has no electronic
data available, those who were serving in the 1970s state that
the overwhelming preponderance of DASs were State Foreign
Service ofcers. Currently, FSOs occupy only 54 percent of
such positions, a number that has remained basically consis-
tent over the period for which the department has data.
A Wake-Up Call
Te implications of these facts must be faced. Our intent in
writing the
Washington Post
op-ed was, and remains, to issue
a wake-up call about what we see as a long-term deterioration
in the role of the Foreign Service. If that role is to be redefned,
then that process needs to be explicit, public and the subject
of a discussion that has not yet taken place.
Te argument we are making is simple. Te U.S. needs,
and the Foreign Service Act of 1980 calls for, a strong, profes-
sional Foreign Service. Tat mandate requires attention to the
Service’s role in the conduct of policy, just as it requires disci-
pline, training and responsibility on the part of Foreign Service
members. Tere is also a need for a strong and more fexible
Civil Service, but the two systems are rubbing up against each
other in unproductive ways.
Tese fundamental problems need to be addressed head-
on, rather than massaged on the margins with signifcant
political and policy issues left invisible in the public discus-
sion. Te growing number of political appointments reaching
down into the Department of State and USAID is weakening
the Foreign Service.
To be clear, we are not protesting against non-career
appointments, per se. Rather, the issue is one of scale and
competence. Large numbers of non-career appointments at
the senior and mid-levels in Washington, as is increasingly
happening, drain the institution of its professional character,
and give too much weight to political and partisan interests at
the expense of advice gained from the conduct of diplomacy in
the feld. Tis compounds the longstanding problem of non-
career ambassadors whose appointments, in many cases, are
the result of a process of raising campaign funds—and often
fail to meet the requirements laid out in the Foreign Service
Act of 1980, as amended, regarding qualifcations.
In addition, we must examine the requirements for achiev-
ing a frst-class Foreign Service and nurture its strong role
within the Department of State.
An Elite, but Not Elitist
Each of these issues requires a degree of explanation that
the space constraints of a newspaper opinion piece regrettably
precludes. First, however, we need to address the meaning of
elitism vs. elite, a criticism generated by the earlier piece.
Te former term describes a mental and social attitude sug-
gesting an expectation of superiority, privilege and exclusion
of others. Tat is not the Foreign Service we desire.
“Elite,” on the other hand, is an adjective describing
organizations that have highly competitive requirements for
entrance and advancement, and emphasize public service,
maintain high professional standards and demand that
members make the sacrifces necessary to gain objectives.
But to say that any attempt to create and maintain an elite
Foreign Service is “elitism” is to allow political correctness to
run amok. For instance, one can believe that Seal Team 6 (the
United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group) is
an elite force without denigrating the rest of the U.S. Navy, or
Only a truly merit-based,
representative, professional
corps can carry out American
diplomacy and grow the broad
leadership “bench” required to
meet future needs.