Page 9 - Foreign Service Journal - October, 2012b

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A Small but
Powerful Change
I found your June article,
“Local Employees Seek a
Dialogue with Washing-
ton,” interesting. Tough
I retired from the Foreign
Service in 2007, I remem-
ber that use of the term
“Locally Engaged Staf”
to describe those who had been
“Foreign Service Nationals” was already
an irritant. It is instructive to hear that it
is still bothering many people.
What advantage or improvement was
achieved by changing to “LES”? “Foreign
Service National” describes such employ-
ees just as well as LES does. And “FSN”
sounds much better than “LES.”
Since the newer term is still (after what,
nearly 20 years?) not appreciated by the
people it describes, why not return to
FSN? What would it cost? At a minimum,
it would show that the State Department
doesn’t have a tin ear in regard to such
Perhaps this issue is another example
of a phenomenon described to me back
in the 1990s by a Washington, D.C.-based
electronics technician. We were discuss-
ing a major realignment of ofces and
bureaus that was taking place in the State
Department, and scratching our heads
over the resulting confusion in the feld.
Te tech commented, “Well, that is
typical of Washington: a systemic problem
is recognized, but instead of the problem
being corrected, it is found to be easier to
change the names of everything ... who
reports to whom; what this, that or the
other ofce is named; what supersedes
this, that or the other directive. Ten,
though the initial problem hasn’t been
corrected, by the time all the dust settles,
it can be thought that improvements have
been arrived at ... at least for a time.”
What may sound like
a very small change is
anything but that. Words are
powerful, especially those
used to classify people.
Steve Flora
FSO, retired
Canberra, Australia
Joel Poinsett
Many thanks to Luciano Mangiafco for
his FS Heritage columns on “U.S. Diplo-
mats and the Smithsonian” in your Febru-
ary issue and “Joel R. Poinsett: First U.S.
Envoy in Latin America” in July-August.
Te two topics can be even more
closely linked, as they were on Feb. 24
when the Chilean Embassy hosted a
reception at the Smithsonian to celebrate
the 200th anniversary of Poinsett’s 1812
meeting with Chilean leader Jose Miguel
Carrera. Te embassy, State Department
and Smithsonian worked together on
the celebration, which was held at the
American Art Museum near a marble bust
of Poinsett on exhibit there.
In her remarks, Smithsonian Under
Secretary for Science Eva Pell noted Poin-
sett’s connections to the institution and
his advocacy for a national museum that
would showcase relics of the country and
its leaders, celebrate American technology
and document the national resources of
North America.
While serving as Secretary of War,
Poinsett oversaw the United States Explor-
ing Expedition that circumnavigated the
globe between 1838 and 1842. He insisted
that the expedition include a staf of natu-
ralists to study and collect samples from
the natural resources of distant lands.
When the crates of specimens arrived,
they were housed in the Patent Ofce
Building, now home to the Smithsonian
American Art Museum and the National
Portrait Gallery. Tese and other curiosi-
ties were managed by a group called the
National Institute for the Promotion of
Science, formed in 1840 by Poinsett and
others to secure control of the James
Smithson bequest and create a national
museum in Washington.
Joel Poinsett’s advocacy for the collec-
tions helped ensure that the concept of a
national museumwould be included in
the Smithsonian’s enabling act.
Beatrice Camp
Senior Adviser for International Afairs
Ofce of the Under Secretary for History,
Art, and Culture
Smithsonian Institution
A Diferent View
Regarding the July-August FS Heritage
profle about Joel Poinsett, it should be
noted that most diplomatic historians see
him as the frst in a succession of largely
incompetent American envoys who made
no secret of their contempt for Mexicans
and egregiously crossed the line between
diplomacy and interference in Mexico’s
internal afairs. Poinsett’s “lasting legacy”
for Mexicans today is not that he gave his
name to a pretty native fower, but that he
was in the vanguard of American imperi-
alism in Mexico.
Charles Ahlgren
FSO, retired
Cranston, R.I.
Good Paperwork Does
Not Make a Leader
I’m a retired USAID FSO who provides
short-term technical and managerial
assistance to USAID overseas missions. In
that capacity, I frequently meet new-hire
technical professionals who have been
recruited and trained through the agency’s
Development Leadership Initiative pro-
While I thoroughly enjoy the oppor-