For nearly two decades during the twentieth century, this writer represented the United States abroad as a career diplomat. My appointments, issued officially by the President and confirmed by the Senate, ranged over time from third secretary and vice consul at the junior end of the pay scale, up to counselor of embassy.
Occasionally during those years abroad foreigners, and Americans too, would ask if a forthcoming national election at home would affect my job status. Alternatively, someone would query me as to whether a change in the occupant of the White House was going to require me to resign from my postas second secretary of embassy at Kathmandu, for example.
"Why, no!" I invariably replied, explaining that requirements for resignation applied only to very senior American foreign affairs officials, including ambassadors. Even then, an ambassador who had risen through the ranks of the career Foreign Service officer (FSO) corps would remain on the rolls even if Washington accepted his or her tendered resignation as, for example, ambassador to Nepal.
Under circumstances of a shift in political leadership in Washington, however, the White House and the Department of State didand still dorequire and routinely accept the resignations of political appointees. These are appointees from other than diplomatic careers whom the outgoing President has selected for top-level jobs as ambassadors and policy-making positions in State.
This turnover when administrations change for decades has affected roughly one-third of the United States' ambassadors, with the other two-thirds of American envoys coming from the career FSO corps. These latter often are retained at the ambassadorial level, but very rarely are noncareerists held over by a new, different administration.
Since 1924, none of the junior to upper middle-level officers below ambassadorial rank has faced the Washington shuffle brought about by changes in political party control of the Presidency. In that year, the Rogers Act combined the United States' diplomatic and consular services, brought both under a system of rigorous examinations for entry-level positions, and established merit-based procedures for advancement. Prior to that time, all diplomatic and consular officer positions were up for grabs with the change of the political party in power in the White Houseall of them. (The United States was the last of the industrialized nations, including Japan, to put in place such standards for the selection and retention of ita diplomats.)
America's corps of FSOs thus is almost completely insulated from the infighting of national political campaigns. FSOs long have not only taken a nonpartisan stance on foreign policy questions and the support of the nation's political leadership, whatever the personal voting preferences of the FSOs might be, they have also taken pride in this position. Unstinting support of the president and his principals, importantly including the secretary of state, by the FSO corps has been constant for many decades through many administrations and Presidents. Individual FSOs as citizens exercise their rights and discharge their civic duty by casting their votes, either directly in the United States or by absentee ballot from overseas. Their thoroughgoing professionalism, however, dictates a totally nonpartisan attitude in the performance of their duties. A very occasional resignation over a matter of perceived principle comprises the sole exception to this outlook.
Worth noting, then, in this year of a heated U.S. Presidential election, is the fact that the members of the U. S. Foreign Service dedicate themselves to the nation and the American people, not one or another political party. The Foreign Service helps to formulate policy and carry out programs regardless of what might be individuals' personal views. These well-trained, experienced foreign affairs professionals, whose careers do not depend on the rise of one major political party or the other, bring the highest possible standards of excellence to the performance of their tasks.
The nation may well be proud of them.
Editor Henry E. Mattox