Remember When: Policy on Wives of Foreign Service Employees

Washington, January 22, 1972, 9:05 a.m.

The following is U.S. Government policy regarding wives of Foreign Service employees. This policy applies as well to male spouses and other dependents of Foreign Service employees. Copies of this instruction should be made available to all employees and their dependents. Ambassadors and Principal officers are asked to insure that this policy is observed and that all concerned understand the voluntary character of wives’ participation on which it rests:

1. The wife of a Foreign Service employee who has accompanied her husband to a foreign post is a private individual; she is not a Government employee. The Foreign Service, therefore, has no right to levy any duties upon her. It can only require that she comport herself in a manner which will not reflect discredit on the United States.

2. Foreign Service Officers have broadly defined representational responsibilities overseas. These are an integral part of their job, and they are expected to lead generally active social lives. An officer is not relieved of such responsibilities if his wife chooses not to assist him in carrying them out. However, the U.S. Government has no right to insist that a wife assume representational burdens. Each wife must decide the extent to which she wants to participate as a partner in this aspect of her husband’s job. She is free to follow her own interests (subject only to the laws and regulations of the host country and the U.S. Government).

3. Many wives may want to engage abroad, as they do at home, in charitable activities. In doing so they not only help others less fortunate than themselves, but often contribute favorably to the image of the U.S. abroad. However, a wife’s participation in charitable activities must be truly voluntary. Which particular charity, if any, and the extent of her involvement is a decision for the wife alone to make.

This applies also to wives’ participation in activities such as binational organizations, clubs and “in-house” social gatherings which are often worthwhile, contribute to morale and the effective functioning of the post, and thus benefit the Foreign Service. Many wives enjoy these activities, provided they are not viewed as requirements. Some do not and are not required to engage in them.

4. Although membership in a diplomatic community and the requirements of protocol inevitably involve considerations of rank and precedence in dealing with people outside the post, this does not grant to any wife authority over, or responsibility for, the wives of other employees. The American tradition of neighborliness, personal courtesy and mutual concern is the appropriate way to be helpful and friendly without assuming a superior-subordinate relationship.

5. Mention of wives’ participation or lack thereof in the types of activities discussed in this instruction may not be made in performance evaluation reports, Inspectors’ efficiency reports, or training evaluations. Every rating and reviewing officer has the responsibility of insuring that employees’ ratings are not affected by such considerations. However, should violations of this policy occur, remedial action will be taken.

6. The Department, USIA, and AID are instituting careful review of their regulations and guidelines to insure that they conform with these principles. Posts are instructed to review their own programs and guidelines to insure conformity with this instruction. These Agencies are confident that this policy statement will receive the support and cooperation of all concerned. If violations do occur, every effort should be made to resolve them at post. However, if after such an effort is made, they cannot be resolved in the field, they should be brought to the attention of the Director General for the Department of State, Office of Personnel and Manpower for AID, and the Assistant Director for Personnel and Training for USIA. Complaints of abuse will be handled on a confidential basis.

Related Items:

  • Action Memorandum From the Chairman of the Secretary’s Open Forum Panel, Department of State (Thomas) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Administration Macomber | October 20, 1971

  • Secretary Roger’s Airgram | From the DoS to All Posts | Policy on Wives of Foreign Service Employees | January 22, 1972