Page 9 - Foreign Service Journal - December 2012

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n adopting the Foreign Service Act of
1980, Congress declared that “mem-
bers of the Foreign Service should
be representative of the American
people.” Tis language lays down an
unmistakable marker that America’s
diplomatic service should refect the real
face of a diverse nation.
At that time, the members of the
Foreign Service were overwhelmingly
white and male, and had often graduated
from a handful of elite institutions. Tree
decades later, the Service has become
largely representative of American diver-
sity in terms of ethnicity/race, gender,
geography, age, educational background
and work experience.
Tis success is the result of a variety of
recruitment measures adopted over the
years (some more efective than others),
which have steadily increased minor-
ity representation. A 2009 study com-
missioned by the Department of State
concluded that the procedures currently
in place for recruitment and testing
attract a diverse pool of applicants, and
that this diversity also characterizes those
who qualify for entry. To preserve and
build on this real progress we have made
toward making the Foreign Service truly
representative of American society, we
need new approaches to attract qualifed
African-Americans and
Congress also set out
several other important
markers in the 1980 Act. It stipulated that
“a career Foreign Service, characterized
by excellence and professionalism, is
essential to the national interest.” Toward
that end, “the Foreign Service should be
operated on a basis of merit promotion”
and the Senior Foreign Service should be
“characterized by strong policy formula-
tion capabilities, outstanding leader-
ship qualities, and highly developed
functional, foreign language and area
Clearly, Congress not only sought to
create a more diverse and representative
institution, but one stafed by a profes-
sional career service characterized by
excellence and merit. But since the adop-
tion of the act, what policies or programs
have been put in place to ensure that
progress would also be made on meeting
those markers? Has the broader diversity
achieved been accompanied by mea-
sures to ensure an integrated, cohesive
Foreign Service with a strong sense of
mission and of community, dedicated to
excellence, based on merit and with the
clear code of professional conduct that is
the attribute of strong institutions?
Sadly, it is probably fair to say that the
Foreign Service has lost (if it ever had) the
professional framework needed to bind
a diverse group of ofcers and specialists
into a cohesive cadre. Nor do members
of today’s Foreign Service seem to share a
common understanding of their mis-
sion and of their role in achieving it, in
the manner so strongly emphasized and
cultivated by our military services.
To rectify this, particularly in an
increasingly complex and competitive
global environment, State and the U.S.
Agency for International Development
need to undertake structural reforms
such as the following:
First, they must “think big” about
A-100 basic training, integrating profes-
sional education and training from the
beginning and throughout a career with
prospects for advancement. Tis new
concept should aim to infuse a consis-
tent, career-long ethos of excellence,
discipline and professionalism.
Second, State should revisit the cone
system, which has had such unintended
consequences as encouraging overly
narrow specializations within an ofcer
corps that must be capable of thinking
strategically, connecting dots and sup-
plying the executive leadership of our
diplomatic service.
We also need to honestly assess the
impact of an increasingly heavy prepon-
derance of transient, non-career leader-
ship that is not organic to the Department
of State or the Foreign Service, and under-
standably cannot relate to the require-
ments of institutional development.
Tis may appear to be an ambitious
agenda. But such a vision is what the For-
eign Service of the 21st century requires
to fulfll the potential of the 1980 Act, by
forging a common mission and building
broad understanding of the key role each
component plays in achieving it.
Building a Truly Diverse, Professional
Foreign Service
Susan R. Johnson is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.