The Foreign Service Journal - September 2014 - page 18

“Up or Out” Is Harming
American Foreign Policy
he “up or out” system for
career advancement in the
Foreign Service was intro-
duced as an improvement in
the Foreign Service Act of 1980, but it
has instead damaged the Service. It
should be repealed.
“Up or out” is borrowed from the
military. The regulations for “up or
out” set limits (usually short) on the
time in class an officer can serve before
being either promoted or selected out.
The intention, of course, is to thin out
senior ranks to provide “flow-through”
space for more junior officers to move
up the pyramid. This suits the military
Yet diplomacy requires larger por-
tions of international sophistication,
tact and specialized knowledge, while
demanding less physical prowess in
its execution. That is why every other
developed country’s diplomats are
generally allowed to remain in active
service until reaching the age of 65.
At a symposium on creativity run by
the Department of Defense back in the
George B. Lambrakis was a U.S. Foreign Service officer from 1954 to 1985, the
first two years with the U.S. Information Agency and the rest with the Depart-
ment of State. Formerly director of training assignments in the State Depart-
ment’s Personnel Bureau (now Human Resources), he was also a member of
AFSA’s 1970 “Young Turks” AFSA Governing Board, which organized the trans-
formation of the association into a labor union. Even after subsequent careers in international
fundraising and academia, he remains interested in Foreign Service personnel issues as they
affect wider American foreign policy. His December 2013
article, “A Plea for Greater Team-
work in the Foreign Service,” introduced his views on “up or out.”
1980s, a psychologist presented find-
ings on the ages at which the heights of
effectiveness are thought to be reached
in various professions. It should sur-
prise no one that advertising profes-
sionals were most effective in their late
20s and the military in older years. But
the height of effectiveness in diplomacy
was reached even later, by practitioners
in their 60s. Clearly, the age of greatest
effectiveness depends on the type of
mission to be accomplished.
A Career or a
Way Station?
“Up or out” is also based (often
unconsciously) on the belief that the
Foreign Service is not truly a profes-
sion. Proponents of this view claim its
work involves so many characteristics
and skills that are also partially present
in members of many other professions,
such as lawyers, politicians, academics,
businessmen, journalists and others
who often aspire to temporary diplo-
matic assignments—preferably starting
at the top.
Yet this issue must be faced: Does the
diplomacy of the United States deserve
to be served mainly by a stable body of
experienced people for their full profes-
sional lives? Or is the Foreign Service
content to ultimately depend on pro-
viding training grounds and relatively
short-term, in-and-out experiences for
many other professionals who view their
principal careers as being elsewhere?
Is the work of the Foreign Service so
easily mastered without special training
or apprenticeship, and can the Service
afford to release many of its best people
after providing a partial stage in their
life experience?
For that is where the “up or out”
provision of the 1980 Foreign Service
act has led. The faster one is promoted,
the sooner he or she faces competition
for senior rank. And a few years later—
often still in their 50s, and arguably
near the height of their effectiveness—
the vast majority of Foreign Service
professionals are forced (or elect) to
leave the Service.
The Foreign Service I propose is dif-
ferent, but not difficult to attain.
Elements of a
Professional Service
In my view, a professional Foreign
Service should be characterized by the
following elements.
(1) A career that can last until the
age of 65, following a trial period lead-
ing to tenure.
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