THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
A Consular Conundrum
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-
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
—From “That Which Befits a Profession” by Robert F. Ober Jr.,
in the September 1965
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
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 timeas part of a New York Times series titled “Transgender Today.”
—Maria C. Livingston, Associate Editor
Improving Science and
Technology at State
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. Publishedin 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
■ 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
■ Conduct S&T-oriented foresight