THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNALHarry 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
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 forthe 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