NEEDED: A COHERENT CULTURE,
A COHERENT POLICY PROCESS, AND A COLLECTIVE CALL FOR ACTION
This papers primary focus on the Foreign Service as an institution begs clarification on difficult issues hinted at, but not deeply explored by the questions and responses at hand: What about the Department of State as a whole? Are State and the Foreign Service the same thing? If not, why not and at what cost? Do they share the same assumptions, procedures, and core values about the work they do and the people they work with? These questions go to the heart of what may be the knottiest institutional challenge of all, one for which there is presently no common response.
Most senior FSOs agree that up until the mid-seventies, the Foreign Service so dominated the Department of State that the two institutions were for all intents and purposes one and the same. Today, many officers from seniors down to juniors see State and the Foreign Service as related but quite distinct entities and cultures. As one officer wrote, I may work in the Department of State but the Foreign Service is the only organization that makes me feel like I belong to it. Complicating any discussion about differentiation between State and the Foreign Service is a genuine respect and concern on the part of FSOs for their Civil Service counterparts. For FSOs, however, there is the overarching reality that their numbers have declined by roughly 1,000 since 1994, while Civil Service numbers continue to increase, especially with the addition of USIA and ACDA. The Foreign Service culture now reigns primarily in the geographic bureaus, which may contribute to Service insularity.
The frustrations imposed on everyone by two such different systems led several FSOs to suggest that the assistant secretary for human resources should commission a public and broadly participatory assessment of the pros and cons of moving to a single, exempted personnel system for all State employees. Others believe it has been the intention of the political process and management since around 1994 to civil servicize State. Some of these officers see the process as incremental, but irrevocable, and believe the Service should stop being so insular and get with the program.
Coherent Policy Process
Many of the challenges the Foreign Service faces are beyond its control; they rest with the next administration, the Congress, and the American people. They depend on the degree to which the Department of State is able to command respect, exercise leadership in a sprawling interagency policy process, and cleverly commandeer resources. Secretary Albright deserves credit for bringing to the Departments attention the importance of reaching out to the American public and explaining at every opportunity what their tax dollars invested at State can do for them and their grandchildren. She and her team have identified diplomacy as an instrument of national power and placed it at the heart of the Departments mission. (See Appendix IV, Mission Statement.) They have done their best to persuade the Office of Management and Budget to ask Congress for more resources for the Department of State.
What is becoming ever more clear is that marginal improvements will not be enough to effect the needed modernization of our foreign affairs establishment. And the weaker its lead institutions become, the more dispersed, disjointed, and perplexing American foreign policy and diplomacy become for our partners abroad. The more the institutional infrastructure deteriorates, the less effective the nations diplomatic and consular corps can be in representing and negotiating the countrys interests and providing the leadership and influence it should within the international system.
Many officers echoed the belief that a first-order priority should be for State to be designated as a national security agency, the same as Defense and the CIA. At a minimum, diplomacy needs to be broadly understood and embraced as a crucial instrument of national power, along with military might and intelligence. If sound foreign policy and good diplomacy (backed up by ready military force) are our first line of defense against violent conflict, then State is certainly the first line of force protection for our countrys soldiers, sailors, and airmen and should be dealt with as such. In the coming decade, as one officer noted, If we are to create and exploit opportunity rather than just deal with threats, diplomatic readiness will be at least as important as military readiness.
A number of officers underscored the importance of forging a vision focused on pulling together into a more rational process the civilian components of U.S. national security. One person observed that since successful diplomacy protects military forces from conflict, we might find allies and constituents in the military for strengthening diplomatic institutions and capabilities. Moving in the direction of articulating a national civilian diplomatic command structure aligned with and analogous to that of the militarys national command structure would enhance civil-military communication and coordination. It would also contribute to a more coherent foreign policy process. Absent robust civilian diplomatic institutions, many FSOs worry that the military is too blunt an instrument of national power with which to deftly shape the international environment over the coming decade. Military officers are the first to concur. Aligning civilian and military command structures and decision-making processes more closely would help integrate and maximize the benefits of all of our instruments of national power and influence. Exposing more members of the military and diplomatic officer corps to each others culture and work would also pay dividends.
Call For Action
Everyone interviewed seemed to think that it was up to the leadership to lead change, whether within the confines of the Department of State and the Foreign Service or the larger foreign policy arena. On institutional issues, this looking to leadership without feeling empowered to press leadership (whether on the Hill or in the Department) may itself be indicative of Foreign Service cultural breakdown and weakness. To be fair, many FSOs pride themselves on being apolitical implementers of national foreign policy. As a result, some feel this bars them from speaking out on strategic institutional infrastructure and management issues. However, dynamic organizational cultures breed people with some sense of responsibility for and influence over the destiny of their own institutions. If the officer corps has no right to comment on core institutional issues, who does? Such concerns did not stop military officers in the late seventies.
The victimhood that emerged among all levels of FSOs in the course of interviewing for this project is unbecoming. The Foreign Service doesnt have a constituency, Congress doesnt like us, the Seventh Floor doesnt care, and nothings changed and nothing will, were common refrains. These attitudes may be related to another index of waning institutional strength: the absence of any spontaneous Young Turk movement in the Service since the Group of 44 (which grew to over 200) pressured for change in the late Seventies. (Prior to that time, I am told such initiatives emerged every five to ten years, most often led by mid-level officers such as the young Phil Habib and Lannon Walker, among others.)
Many of the mid-level officers with whom I spoke found this observation surprising; some seemed puzzled by the phrase Young Turks itself. A number of junior officers confided that the impression that they have received is that speaking out marks you as uncooperative and cuts your chances for advancement, so best to keep quiet. Of these, four or five asked to speak further and off the record on the basis that they wanted someone to know of their and other colleagues concerns about the recruitment process, which in their view includes the A-100 course. A number have shifted from thinking about the Service as a life-long career to reevaluating the idea in light of their initial introduction to the Foreign Service.
FSOs need to consider what they can do collectively between now and November to put the case for institutional diplomatic readiness squarely on the next administrations agenda irrespective of which party wins the election. As one senior officer observed, The next Secretary of State needs to arrive with a mandate for institutional renewal and readiness. Together with numerous other studies, a considered, collective call for action from our diplomatic service could help move leadership in both political parties in this direction.
Globalization is a fact whether we like it or not. We need to ensure that our institutional infrastructure and our foreign affairs professionals are prepared to help maximize the opportunities it presents and minimize the risks its poses to U.S. interests and everyones need for a peaceful international environment.
Do we have the institutions, skills, and know-how to make global integration sustainable?
FSOs seem to know as well as anyone what is required to meet the challenges of the coming decade. We need to act on this knowledge. In so doing, the Foreign Service will gain more respect from those whose instinct it is to prey on our sense of powerlessness. We must articulate and define what we do, why our institution matters, and the consequences of its inability to fulfill its mandate. Otherwise, the field is abandoned to those who deal in half-truths, accentuate the negative about our institutions, and ignore their our own contribution to the deterioration of the nations diplomatic and foreign affairs institutional infrastructure. National institutions are not sacrosanct; they can and should be changed or even abolished, providing the decision to do so is public, transparent, and purposeful. They should not, however, be allowed to crumble by default due to inattention, mismanagement or lack of courage to renew and sustain them.
To paraphrase Rabbi Hillel, if FSOs cannot or do not stand up for themselves and our nations diplomatic service, who will? If we stand only for ourselves, what are we? If not now, when? Between now and November FSOs should add their voice to the call for action on institutional renewal. Now is the time for Foreign Service officers to define what they think needs to be done to renew and modernize Americas diplomatic institutional infrastructure and articulate how they will contribute to this endeavor. As professionals and citizens, we can and should do no less.
This report is based on the responses and perspectives of almost 100 Foreign Service Officers (FSOs). To gain a leadership perspective, I personally interviewed thirty thoughtfully (but unscientifically) selected senior FSOs, plus several civil service (GS) officers and political appointees, all of whom are serving in Washington in Department of State positions such as under secretary, assistant secretary, deputy assistant secretary or office director. I obtained written responses to the same five questions posed to senior officers from about fifty mid-level officers from all cones. Of those mid-level officers who responded in writing, I met collectively with two different groups of about eighteen people each. Finally, I collected over thirty written responses to a slightly longer set of questions addressed to junior officers of the last three A-100 (beginning orientation) classes and met with a portion of the current A-100 class for more in-depth discussion. Several junior officers asked for private meetings, which were arranged.
I am deeply indebted to all those officers who gave generously of their time to this project. Their input was caring, illuminating, and often provocative. Responsibility for the conclusions drawn from the information received rests solely with the author. The project itself is dedicated to the mid-level and junior officers who will be leading the countrys diplomatic service in 2010.
Stephanie Smith Kinney
Senior Seminar Project
* The author, a recent graduate of the Foreign Service Institute Senior Seminar, is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service. Ms. Kinney holds an MA in strategic resource management from the National Defense University, an MAT from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a BA from Vassar College, as well as a diploma in Hispanic Studies from the University of Madrid. During her career to date, Ms. Kinney has worked primarily in Europe and Latin America. She speaks Spanish, French, and Italian. Immediately prior the Senior Seminar assignment, she served as a member of the Secretarys Policy Planning staff in the Department of State and as the executive director for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and the Bureau of Oceans, Environment, and Science. Ms. Kinney holds a number of Departmental Superior Honor Awards and the Harriman Award for her key work in creating the Departments Family Liaison Office.
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