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Seeking Parity Between the

Civil and Foreign Services



s I’ve done for years, I

attended this year’s Foreign

Affairs Day celebrations at

State, which featured some

interesting speeches and seminars. But

two events that day brought home to

me, a retired civil servant, the long-

standing disharmony between the For-

eign and Civil Services, with the latter

often portrayed as a B team backing up

the former.

First, a Foreign Service officer

stood up in the plenary session and

complained about the increase in the

number of foreign affairs officers (FAO).

He even described us as a harbinger of

the demise of the Foreign Service. Later

in the day, the speaker who led the dis-

cussion of the new National Museum of

American Diplomacy barely mentioned

the Civil Service at all, as though we had

no right to be honored there.

In fact, we FAOs are an asset to the

Foreign Service, and the State Depart-

ment as a whole, not a threat. And

modern American diplomacy needs a

strong Civil Service as much as a strong

Foreign Service.

Larry W. Roeder Jr. retired from the State Department in 2005 (after 35 years of gov-

ernment service). He last worked as a policy adviser on disaster management in the

Bureau of International Organizational Affairs, where he focused on international

humanitarian law, natural disasters and conflict resolution. He also served with the

Army Security Agency in East Africa, as United Nations affairs director with the World Society for

the Protection of Animals and as the series editor for humanitarian affairs at Springer, a German

publisher. Currently, he works at Catholic University. He has written extensively on diplomatic

practice and African-American history.

Deep Roots

I was born into the Foreign Service

and grew to love the constant travel,

meeting new cultures and fresh chal-

lenges. Mom worked in intelligence and

dad was an FSO; they met in Beirut. By

the time I was 8, I had been through

an earthquake, a locust infestation, an

invasion and a naval evacuation, during

which I had to be transferred between

ships by bosun’s chair. I had also lived

twice in Lebanon, as well as in Egypt,

Cuba, Italy and Washington, D.C.

Surviving the 1956 Suez Canal War

was what really got me thinking about

the need for diplomacy. Though I

would first serve in the U.S. Army as an

intelligence expert, my real goal was to

join the State Department, to protect

America through discussion and logic

Today’s diplomacy is nearly always

developed by a team of Foreign Service

and Civil Service professionals.

rather than bullets. That’s not an untypi-

cal choice for Foreign Service “brats,”

I’ve found.

When dad began his Foreign Service

career in Saudi Arabia in the 1940s, he

got to know the Saudi ruler at the time.

And, thanks to dad, I sat on Egyptian

President Gamal Nasser’s knee and later

shared a cigarette with Golda Meir. In

those days, Foreign Service officers ran

everything, or at least most things; and

dad was successful, becoming a consul

general in Israel and Canada.

My own governmental career was

very different from my father’s, reflecting

profound changes in the practice of U.S.

diplomacy. But I, too, came to know a

king very well—King Hussein of Jordan,

whom I met in the Army and later trav-

eled with in his own country. I joined

the State Department in 1972 as an FAO,

the kind of fellow the gentleman in the

Foreign Affairs Day plenary session

mistakenly sees as a threat. My work

began in consular affairs, then shifted to

intelligence, followed by a long stint in

economic affairs and, finally, emergency


Fresh out of the Army, I chose the

Civil Service as my entrée into diplo-