The U.S. Foreign Service Turns 90, What Will It Be Like in 50 Years?

— Domani Spero
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There was a big do in Foggy Bottom last night celebrating the 90th anniversary of the modern Foreign Service founded on May 24, 1924 when the Diplomatic and Consular Services were unified under the Rogers Act (named for Representative John Jacob Rogers of Massachusetts). Former Secretary Colin Powell and former Senator Lugar, as well as other friends of the Service were in attendance.  Secretary Kerry, the 68th Secretary of State and the son of former Foreign Service officer, Richard John Kerrydelivered the remarks. Excerpt:

Ninety years ago the Foreign Service was just absolutely unrecognizable compared to what it is today. Back then we had fewer than 700 Foreign Service officers and now we have more than 13,000. Back then we had no female chiefs of mission – none. Now we have more than 40. And I’m proud to tell you that right now in this Department five out of six of our regional Assistant Secretaries are women; four out of six of our Under Secretaries are women; and we are joined tonight – since we have two Deputy Secretaries of State, 50 percent are women, and one of them is here. Heather Higginbottom, sitting right over here. So I think that’s a great record. 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at an event celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2014. The modern Foreign Service was created on May 24, 1924, with the passage of the Rogers Act establishing the current merit-based, professional Foreign Service. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at an event celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2014. The modern Foreign Service was created on May 24, 1924, with the passage of the Rogers Act establishing the current merit-based, professional Foreign Service. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Former Secretary Colin Powell and former Senator Richard Lugar listen as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at an event celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2014. The modern Foreign Service was created on May 24, 1924, with the passage of the Rogers Act establishing the current merit-based, professional Foreign Service. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Former Secretary Colin Powell and former Senator Richard Lugar listen as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at an event celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2014. The modern Foreign Service was created on May 24, 1924, with the passage of the Rogers Act establishing the current merit-based, professional Foreign Service. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Back then, when it started, we had only one African American Foreign Service officer. One. A man named Clifton Wharton. I happened to know of him way back when because my dad actually worked for him way back in those early days. Now we have nearly a thousand African American Foreign Service officers following in his footsteps.
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And in 1924, House Resolution 6357 passed Congress and it gave birth to the modern Foreign Service. Now to quote Rogers: “The promise of good diplomacy is the greatest protector of peace.” And our hope is that people will recognize that 90 years from that moment, that is exactly what the Foreign Service has done. 

See the full Remarks at the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service.

The U.S. Foreign Service has more than 90 years of history, of course. According to the State Department historian, from 1789 until 1924, the Diplomatic Service, which staffed U.S. Legations and Embassies, and the Consular Service, which was primarily responsible for promoting American commerce and assisting distressed American sailors, developed separately.  

The first Act of Congress providing for U.S. consuls abroad was passed on April 14, 1792. Except for the consuls appointed to the Barbary States of North Africa (who enjoyed quasi-diplomatic status when Muslim countries did not maintain permanent missions abroad), U.S. consuls received no salary and were expected to earn their livings from private trade or from fees charged for official services. Some of these officials did not start getting paid until 1856 when Congress established a salary between $1,000 and $7,500 per year.

In 1781, we had 4 diplomatic posts and 3 consular posts.  By 2010, we had 168 diplomatic and 89 consular posts. In 1781, the State Department also had 4 domestic and 10 overseas personnel. By 1940, this grew to 1,128 domestic personnel and 840 staff overseas. The largest bump in staffing occurred in the 1950s when domestic personnel expanded to 8,609 employees and the Foreign Service grew to 7,710 overseas staff.    By the time the Foreign Service Act of 1980 became law, there were 3,438 Civil Service employees and 9,326 Foreign Service.  When USIA was integrated into the State Department, there were 6,958 CS employees and 9,238 FS employees. The Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (DRI) in 2005 boosted the staffing numbers to 8,098 CS employees and 11,238 FS employees. In 2012, there were 13,676 FS employees of 55% of the total agency employees and 10,811 CS employes or 45% of State employees.

The question we have is what will the Foreign Service look like when it turns 100 in 2024? The DRI hires will be in senior management positions in 10 years. How will their experience help them manage a new generation of diplomats?

In the past decade, we have seen an increase in unaccompanied assignments, and in the number of male eligible family members. The number of danger posts, as well, as the number of priority posts have also expanded.  A good number of junior diplomats have started their careers in war zone assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya; some more were sent to restricted assignments in Pakistan, Yemen, and various countries under civil strife. We have Diplomatic Security agents moving from one priority posting to the next priority posting; rinse that and repeat. We don’t how many PTSD cases and non-natural deaths occur among FS members but we know they exist.

These folks will all come “home” one day to a Foreign Service where some have never served in the front line states.  We hope somebody at the State Department is thinking and planning for that day. Or maybe that day is already here since there is already a divide between those perceived to be conducting “real diplomacy” and those who are not; with some considering an assignment in a war zone as not being “actual diplomacy.” There are also folks annoyed that FSOs who serve in war zones get much more money and received favorable treatment on promotions.

Something is happening in the Foreign Service. What will it be like in fifty years?

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One response

  1. You might find the following comment made by someone at the anniversary dinner (me) of some interest, given your comment.

    “Congratulations to all who were involved in organizing and managing last night’s 90th Anniversary Dinner. It was an elegant and graceful affair, thoroughly enjoyed by all present. In the best tradition of the Service.

    But, but…..

    The Secretary of State was present, for which thanks, He was also elegant and graceful and expressive. But while lauding the origin of the Foreign Service he said nothing – nothing, – about its present, and more important, future role in the conduct of American diplomacy. Can you imagine the Secretary of Defense in a similar affair for the US Army not reaffirming its central role in American defense policy and programs?

    I don’t know if the absence of such a key subject was inadvertent or deliberate but it was significant. It may presage the coming end of the Foreign Service as a distinctive professional diplomatic corps occupying the center of American diplomacy.

    Last night may turn out in retrospect not to have been an anniversary party, but instead a wake.”

    Sent from my iPad

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