The Foreign Service Journal - September 2016
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It’s Time to Be a

“State” Person

Domestic politics and career public

service shouldn’t mix. I can now count

on two hands how many times someone

has said to me: “He/she is a ‘Clinton/

Trump/Fill-in-the-Blank person,’ so

they don’t want to make waves before

the election.”

According to those I’ve spoken

with, the definition of “waves” can be

anything from personnel and staffing

decisions to sticking up for one’s people

or weighing in on possibly contentious


No matter the reason, good lead-

ers—especially career State employees—

should never be afraid to do their jobs

for fear of the political ramifications.

The fact that some high-level leaders

in our organization are playing it safe

should be alarming. Further, it should

disturb the core of our organization that

people at the working level know and

accept that this is happening.

Reliance on the outcome of domestic

elections weakens the State Department.

As career employees, it is our job to

internalize the core values of the organi-

zation (character, service, accountabil-

ity, community, diversity and loyalty), to

represent national, not partisan, inter-

ests and to live the core culture of State

and help political appointees adapt to it.

This is my first administration transi-

tion as a State employee. I’ve noticed

that at the working level some of us jok-

ingly remind one another of the Hatch

Act, or we wonder aloud how we would

draft press guidance should a Trump

presidency become more probable. But

we don’t base our on-the-job actions on

who may be elected.

Yet some senior personnel are

changing their behavior because they’re

“politicians’ people.” These are not

appointees—they are career members of

the State Department.

I was a member of the military dur-

ing the Clinton-Bush transition. We all

did our jobs without thinking much

about the outcome of the Bush v. Gore

Supreme Court decision. We never

heard of generals who were Bush or

Gore people.

Any sort of political behavior deemed

detrimental to the organization would

have “rung bells” and spurred the orga-

nization to action. It would have been

exorcised like an evil spirit.

This is not to say that it doesn’t hap-

pen in the military or other organiza-

tions. There is a long list of generals, in

fact, who have been ostracized because

of their political behavior.

The point is not that it happens, but

that organizations with strong, internal-

ized core values can recognize a cancer

and have the expertise and the courage

to cut it out.

Is this behavior necessary to survive

and thrive in the State Depart-

ment? Do you have to be a

“politician’s person” to help your

people and your organization? If

so, if those who are playing it safe

for political reasons are right, then

fears that we may work in a leader-

less institution are justified.

It is not off base to say that we in

career public service are held to a

higher standard than are politicians.

We could never mealy-mouth our way

through a debate on the meaning of the

word “is”; we should never rest on the

selective amnesiac’s excuse, “Senator, I

have no recollection….”; and we should

never pin our professional advancement

to the careers of elected officials.

There’s no better way to counter

this politically motivated behavior

than through State’s current drive to

build a grassroots culture of leadership.

Employees at all levels can get involved

with efforts like iLead through FSI

and the

Office of Management Policy


Rightsizing and Innovation; they can

contribute to professional development

portals like Smart Leadership and the

Leadership and Management School

website; and they can participate in

mentoring programs sponsored by the

career development advisor (CDA).

Together we can take ownership of

the profession of diplomacy.

John Fer


Washington, D.C.

A Welcome Explication

of Hiring Practices

Glenn Guimond’s clear explana-

tion of the steps required to become

a Foreign Service officer is a welcome

explication of hiring practices for new

entry-level offi

cers (“Examining State’s Foreign Service Officer Hiring Today,” July-




I appreciated the

opportunity to com-

pare it with the exami-

nation process I went

through in the early

1960s and to update

my understanding of

current requirements.

I would urge that it

be reprinted as a brochure to be utilized

and distributed by recruiters and by

retired FSOs who have the opportunity

to speak to young people who may be

interested in career opportunities with

the Department of State.

Perhaps the article that followed on

“Opportunities for Students”

could also

be usefully included in such a publica-

tion. (I must admit, though, to some