THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
It’s Time to Be a
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
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
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 theOffice 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.
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 officers (“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
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”
be usefully included in such a publica-
tion. (I must admit, though, to some