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Harry W. Kopp, an FSO from 1967 to 1985, is the author of Commer- cial Diplomacy and the National Interest (2004) and, with the late Tony Gillespie, Career Diplomacy: Life andWork in the U.S. Foreign Service (2008). His most recent work, The Voice of the Foreign Servic e: A History of the American Foreign Service Association , was released by

Foreign Service Books on July 13.


The Foreign Service

Act of 1980

Turns 35

The Foreign Service Act of 1980 became law in early 1981. A year later, the



Congress, State management and AFSA leadership to evaluate its implementation.

Here are their responses.


robably no president since Grover

Cleveland could say, as Jimmy Carter

did, that “the reform, simplification and

improvement of personnel administra-

tion” is “a top priority of my admin-

istration.” The president’s passion for

the subject produced the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 and the Foreign Service Act of 1980, which he accura


called “the first comprehensive revision of personnel legislation

for the United States Foreign Service in 34 years.”

The 1980 Act aimed, in the words of a Government Account-

ability Office report, “to provide a Foreign Service character-

ized by excellence and professionalism, representative of the

American people and operated on the basis of merit principles.”

It covered seven agencies (two of which no longer exist) and

codified in one law authorities scattered in various executive

orders and regulations.

The act created the Senior Foreign Service, reduced the

number of Foreign Service personnel categories, established a

single Foreign Service pay schedule, added new benefits and

allowances, authorized a Foreign Service union, set parameters

for a grievance system and strengthened congressional oversight

by requiring regular reports from the Department of State on

affirmative action, professional development, workforce plan-

ning, language skills, ambassadorial nominations, operations of

the inspector general and other matters.

Some of the act’s injunctions were never fulfilled, and oth-

ers have lost force with the passage of time. The act intended

but failed to create a single, uniform Service across the foreign

affairs agencies: an interagency Board of the Foreign Service

quickly fell into disuse, and although the agencies negotiated

common regulations one by one, they never defined or adopted

the “maximum compatibility” that the act called for.

Necessity, expedience and changing circumstances reversed

the simplification of personnel categories, which are many and

complex once again. And the act’s statement that “contributions

to political campaigns should not be a factor” in ambassadorial

appointments was weightless and wishful from the outset.

The Foreign Service Act of 1980 has now been in force longer

than either of its 1924 and 1946 predecessors. Could a new act

take into account the changes in the Service and its role, and

lead to better management and better performance? Perhaps,

but without a president intrigued by the problems of administra-

tion, a Secretary of State eager for reform and a Congress willing

to take on a project with no political payoff, a new act has no

realistic prospect of adoption.

Anyone involved with the Foreign Service at the time of its

passage knew that the Act of 1980 was a great and transforma-

tive accomplishment. But those responsible for carrying it out

had different ideas about what was important and how well the

work of implementation was going. The three-part article below,

reprinted from the May 1982 issue of

The Foreign Service Journal


presents views from the Hill, from State’s management and from

AFSA’s governing board.

The reader in 2015 may feel a tingle of recognition in the fol-

lowing pages and a sense that Ecclesiastes had it right: “There is

nothing new under the sun.”

—Harry W. Kopp