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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

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SEPTEMBER 2015

15

A Consular Conundrum

T

he introduction to theWelfare and Protection Chapter of the Foreign Affairs Manual calls upon the consular officer to

keep “in mind that the manner of performing a service may be of equal importance to the service itself,” and to dem-

onstrate to individuals that “their problems are receiving careful attention (even in those cases in which it is not possible to

accede to a request or bring about the desired solution).”

The concern of many consular officers, including myself, is that the implementation of this standard is becoming

increasingly difficult. At posts with a significant volume of consular activity, the officer is being compelled to realign his

attention from the human predicament in the waiting room to the rapid and, too often, mechanical production of ser-

vices.

The difficulty exists because consular resources have failed to keep pace with a rising volume of activity, and because

the department has chosen to respond by encouraging a rapid expansion of productivity, and not the resources. In fiscal

year 1964, the nonimmigrant visa workload rose 23 percent over the preceding year, and comparable increases were

recorded in other consular functions.

The difficulty is compounded by the attitude that the sole function of consular sections

is to produce “services.” As a consequence of the attitude, and the inadequacy of consular

resources, many posts are being analyzed by a “productivity index”—essentially a ratio of “ser-

vices” produced per man hour.

At the same time, the consular process is being realigned so that an officer’s day is strictly

allocated to “service”-producing functions, such as taking oaths, signing passports and visas.

The interview, formerly a well of information and contacts, is being formalized into a one-to-

five-minute routine or eliminated altogether. Various steps in the procedures are being elimi-

nated. Sections are being pressured to deploy form letters and information sheets instead of

personal attention.

—From “That Which Befits a Profession” by Robert F. Ober Jr.,

in the September 1965

FSJ

.

50 Years Ago

and female, as well.

Though the United States changed its

policy in 2010 to allow its own citizens

to change the gender in their passports

without having undergone sex reassign-

ment surgery, it still doesn’t offer the third

gender option. (Under the new policy, a

passport applicant must present a physi-

cian’s certificate verifying that they have

had appropriate clinical treatment for

gender transition.)

And since the department is unable to

comment on Soni’s visa application due

to privacy laws, it remains unclear how

future visa cases involving non-American

third-gender passports will be handled.

Meanwhile, Robyn McCutcheon, the

first Foreign Service officer to publically

transition, discusses how the support she

received from embassy colleagues was key

to helping her through that critical time

as part of a New York Times series titled “Transgender Today.”

—Maria C. Livingston, Associate Editor

Improving Science and

Technology at State

A

recent report from the National

Research Council surveys the current

science and technology landscape at the

State Department and recommends ways

to strengthen S&T capabilities. Published

in June, “Diplomacy for the 21st Century: Embedding a Culture of Science and TechnologyThroughout the Department of State” emphasizes why constantly

improving S&T competencies is integral

to a range of foreign policy issues in our

rapidly changing world.

The report offers specific steps to boost

S&T competence:

■ Establish an S&T Advisory Board to

provide insights on S&T issues related to

the foreign policy agenda.

■ Maintain and, when appropriate,

increase S&T counselors at embassies

where S&T issues are important.

■ Elevate the organizational status of

the S&T adviser to the equivalent of an

assistant secretary.

■ Conduct S&T-oriented foresight