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On its home page, the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training shares a funny ha!ha! joke that the Foreign Service has undergone major reforms and tinkering over the past century so much that people often say that if you didn’t like the current system, just wait a few years and it would change. One of the fascinating periods of change at the State Department occurred during the tenure of William Crocket, the Deputy Under-Secretary of State for Administration from 1963-1967. He was responsible for bringing Chris Argyris to write a report on the Foreign Service, now only available to read at the State Department library (anyone has a digital copy?). He did T-groups, organizational development and such. When Mr. Crockett retired in 1967 many of the programs he started were barely alive or already buried and forgotten. He was never credited for some that still lives on. He felt he was an outcast from the Foreign Service and left a disillusioned man. He tried to change the service, and it wasn’t quite ready for him (see pdf of oral history).
We recently just read ADST’s oral history interview with Stephanie Kinney. We have previously quoted her in this blog in 2009 and are familiar with her ideas for change. Ms. Kinney is a former Senior Foreign Service Officer, one of the first “tandem couples” (i.e., both are FSOs), and winner of the Department of State’s Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) Harriman Award for her leadership role in creating the Department’s Family Liaison Office (FLO). She was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in 2010 for ADST.
Below is an excerpt from her 2010 interview. Check out her full oral history interview here.
[T]he problem at the State Department, I believe, is its lack of institutional leadership and its lack of a single, unified and vibrant corporate cultures. Its culture is still fundamentally 20th century and divided between Foreign Service and Civil Service and the growing overlay of short-term, Schedule C [political appointees] leadership. There are people, pockets of people, working to change that, but it is an uphill battle.
The drafters of the 1980 Act did not believe in a generalist Foreign Service officer corps. Bill Backus and I argued about “generalists” versus “specialists” ad nauseam; he wanted to create a Foreign Service more like the Civil Service, of which he was a part. He and the other drafters wanted to tie the Foreign Service to the Civil Service and create an equivalency that has never existed because the two personnel systems and cultures are so different. They also created something called LCEs, Limited Career Extensions, which seriously corrupted the Senior Foreign Service through their abuse, and then created an infamous senior surplus, the cost of which was the gutting of a generation of largely 01, political officers in the mid 1990’s. [Note: An FS-01 is equivalent to a GS-15 and is the level before entering the Senior Foreign Service.]
So today what do we have at the State Department? The vast majority of our FSOs have less than five years experience. You have officers expecting to be promoted to 01 who have done only their obligatory consular tour, maybe a tour in their cone, and one or two others.
Another pattern is that many entry level officers now have to do two consular tours, then return to the Department for a desk job and then go to Iraq or Afghanistan, where they do ops with the military. They have never done the first lick of what you would call mainstream diplomacy. One wonders what the impact of this will be on the system?
Now this is not to say that what they have been doing is not a kind of diplomacy; it is and it is utterly essential to the 21st century. But their experience to date is not a kind of work that has prepared them to come back into the civilized world and maintain proper relations and perform with long standing successful states and cultures. These more established states—be they developed or “emerging” like the BRICs [Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, and China], all value tradition and diplomatic savoir faire more than we, and they far outstrip the value and importance of either Iraq or Afghanistan.
The people to whom you have referred as the high flying “staffers,” have taken no interest in their own institution, which is the base of their power and their work. It is the nature of a profession that it is involved in its own institutions. Otherwise, it is not a profession.
I could not sustain the assertion today that diplomacy is a profession at the Department of State. I think it can be. I think it should be. I am working to move it in that direction, but there is no evidence that the current culture and conditions and leadership are encouraging and helping the younger generation assume the responsibilities and take the measures needed to improve the situation….
But minus strong leadership that seeks to instill common ethics and standards and professional pride, there seems to be growing concern that what we are getting is a group of people for whom little matters beyond one’s own interests. If the Foreign Service culture is all about stepping on someone else to get to the next rung, it is not going to work. You are going to hang separately, because, in my view, that is how it has gotten us where we are.
When I came to State, there was no such thing as a Schedule C Assistant Secretary. Jimmy Carter took eight FSOs—well they were almost all FSOs under the age of 38 who had resigned over Vietnam, such as Dick Holbrook and Tony Lake—and he made them Assistant Secretaries. They were known as the Baby Eight. So when Ronald Reagan came in he said, “Oh, I will pocket those eight, and I also want a DAS in every bureau,” and so the Deputy Assistant Secretaries became politicized. Today it goes down to the Office Director level. (Note: see this graphic – pdf)
The politicization, along with Secretaries of State who also have no sense of responsibility for or interest in the Department as an institution, continues to sap the institution of vitality. That in my view is one of the primary reasons that the institution has fallen on such hard times.
What’s remarkable is that Mr. Crockett in his oral history interview (pdf) conducted in 1990 said practically the same thing:
“The absence of Secretarial interest in the operations of the Department and many of its functions is often pointed out as one of State’s major deficiencies. Most Secretaries, when faced with the choice of being part of the policy development process or managers of a Cabinet Department, opt for the first to the detriment, I believe, of the second. I am sure it is far more attractive to run around the world like Shultz did–involved in diplomatic activities–that staying at home managing a fairly large organization–certainly a complex one. State is unique among Cabinet Departments in that regard because a Secretary can get by without paying much attention to the management of his Department.”
What’s that they say about change — the more things change, the more they stay the same?
In related news, Secretary Kerry is on travel, this time to Seoul, Beijing, Jakarta, and Abu Dhabi, from February 13-18, 2014. On his first year as Secretary of State, he was on travel 152 days, to 39 countries, travelling 327,124 miles. If he keep at this, he will break Secretary Clinton’s travel record. He may also go down in the history books as the Secretary of State who was almost never home.
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