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by Stephanie Smith Kinney


In an important independent research study, the author concludes on the basis of interviews with scores of U.S. Foreign Service officers of virtually all ranks that “as institutions, neither the Department of State nor the Foreign Service is ready to meet the challenges to American diplomacy foreseen between now and 2010.” Disturbing news, indeed. Read on for details and the remedies proposed by career diplomats to overcome this perceived state of unreadiness. ~ Ed.

NOTE: The opinions and views in this paper do not reflect State Department policy but only the perspectives of the individuals interviewed and the author. Quotation marks are used throughout to indicate the words or phrases of officers involved in the project.


Can you picture the world in 2010? No matter how many scenarios one imagines, it is difficult to conceive of one in which the course and quality of U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy do not play an important role. This raises an important question: exactly how well prepared are our foreign affairs institutions and our diplomats to negotiate the future?

In order to learn how Foreign Service colleagues assess the readiness of their institution to meet the challenges of 2010, I sought the response of a range of officers to the following five groups of questions:

  1. What are the most important challenges facing U.S. diplomacy in the coming decade? How do you assess the quality and readiness of the Foreign Service to meet these challenges?
  2. What attributes will the “complete diplomat” of 2010 need to exhibit that his/her counterpart might have been able to do without five to ten years ago? What are the implications of this for the Department of State/the Foreign Service?
  3. Many have called for a significant change in the culture of both the Department of State and the Foreign Service: what are your views?
  4. What professional skills can we develop through training and what must we develop through on-the-job training?
  5. Does the Department of State have core values? Does the Foreign Service have core values? If yes, what are they and how are they transmitted? If no, why not? What is the role or relevance (if any) of core values in an organization or a national institution?

According to a wide spectrum of Foreign Service officers (FSOs), both the Department of State and the Foreign Service are currently “hollowed-out institutions” badly in need of renewal. Our future diplomats will need expertise and skills beyond those of their twentieth century counterparts. They will need to be equally adept at policy and resource management. They will need a solid understanding of the interaction between and among politics, culture, national security, economics, technology, and ecology in order to gain the best results for U.S. interests in an increasingly globalized world.

The officers interviewed for this project echo many of the issues and concerns raised in recent studies conducted by CSIS, the Stimpson Center, the National Research Council, and most recently, the Department of State’s own Overseas Presence Advisory Panel (OPAP):

  • reinventing diplomacy in the information age;
  • managing foreign affairs in the twenty-first century;
  • strengthening science and technology expertise in foreign policy;
  • “right sizing” our overseas diplomatic presence and strengthening Embassy security, ambassadorial authority, and overseas management and administrative services.

However, many also recognized that the most earnest prescriptions and best-intended improvements cannot transform any organization unless they are part of a long-term strategy that supersedes politics and administrations.

There is a window of opportunity between now and the next election for the Foreign Service to forge a collective call for action to focus attention on this need and to commit itself to promoting the kind of change that will help renew and modernize the Department of State, strengthen the Foreign Service, and better prepare our diplomats of 2010 to serve the country.

Responses to the questions listed above varied considerably. There were no doctrinaire answers, but there was an unmistakable sub text: the Department of State and the Foreign Service — the country’s lead foreign affairs and diplomatic institutions — must change. A long-term, strategic process of modernization and renewal of these institutions must be a priority for the next administration. Neither a Democratic nor a Republican foreign policy agenda will be well served by a corps of public servants whose institutional and cultural core is hollowed out.

Those interviewed for this project broadly agreed on only four points:

  1. State’s Foreign Service has high quality personnel.
  2. As institutions, neither the Department of State nor the Foreign Service is ready to meet the challenges to American diplomacy foreseen between now and 2010.
  3. The Foreign Service must be more explicit and consistent about the qualities and skills it expects of all it officers and match those expectations with appropriate incentives and training. And,
  4. Core values are very important, if not crucial, to the operational effectiveness of organizations like the Department of State and the Foreign Service.

The most striking finding was the near unanimous belief that core values are very important, juxtaposed with the absence of any agreement on whether State or the Foreign Service have core values and, if they do, what those values are. In some cases, the perceived “core values” are decidedly negative, e.g.,“don’t rock the boat.” Findings on this issue alone suggest a serious lack of cohesion and a need for institutional renewal. (See Appendices I-III.)

This paper describes respondents’ views on the most important challenges to U.S. diplomacy in the coming decade, which can be summarized as international risks, institutional relevancy, resources, and renewal. It details findings on the core value issue and considers their implications. Drawing further on officers’ responses, the paper advocates a well-defined diplomatic apprenticeship based on service in two main areas: policy management and resource management. It calls for a more rigorous training regime to prepare officers to meet the challenges of globalization and help strengthen professional identity, results-oriented management, leadership, and common purpose. Finally, it challenges all FSOs to seize the window of opportunity between now and November 2000 to forge a collective call for action that the new administration and Congress should take to begin a strategic, long-term, modernization of the country’s lead foreign affairs and diplomatic institutions. A summary of proposals made by respondents that are mentioned in the paper can be found at the end of this text.

Risks, Relevance, Resources, and Renewal

As FSOs look to 2010, they see many challenges to U. S. diplomacy, most of which could be categorized as follows:

  1. International risks to U. S. interests,
  2. the growing irrelevancy of the Department of State and the Foreign Service as institutions,
  3. new and additional financial and personnel resources, and
  4. institutional renewal.

It has taken time, but the obvious is beginning to dawn on almost everyone: guiding the post-Cold War peace to constructive ends may be more challenging and complicated than winning the Cold War itself, and the United States will be as important as any other factor in determining the course of the coming decade. As such, it will not be well served by foreign policy and diplomatic institutions that are “hollowed out,” almost “to the point of being dysfunctional.”


Officers were quick to identify a list of commonly cited challenges to U.S. diplomacy in the coming decade. These could be defined in terms of “international risks to U. S. interests:” rogue states, terrorism; nuclear proliferation, ethnic conflict, China, Russia, and the evolution of NATO, among others. A few officers referenced The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Tom Friedman’s book on globalization; however, many more characterized the world Friedman describes in their own terms, noting discrepancies between State’s traditional culture and organization and the globalizing world in which it must now operate.

Officers spent almost as much time talking about international risks posed by U. S. choices and behavior as they did about risks posed by adversaries. “Graceless U.S. unilateralism” combined with other nations’ “fears about U.S. hegemony” troubled many. Others worried about the risks inherent in a diplomacy and global leadership style “designed to shorten the duration of U.S. political dominance” by breeding resentment and loss of confidence in American leadership and reliability. About a third of the respondents pointed out the risk of not developing more officers possessed of “skill and expertise in working with and through International Organizations and regional structures.”

The consequences of “broad public skepticism” about international engagement, State’s poor relations with Congress, and the continuation of “thirty years of running against Washington” are viewed as presenting serious risks for U.S. diplomacy. So too is the potential for “U.S. failure to move from playing a balancer role in a bipolar world” to becoming a “balance-of-power chess master” in a multi-polar world. Several officers looked at the same situation, but saw the problem as one of “advancing policy in a uni-polar world.” For still others, risk lies in not being able to “conceptualize the historic crossroads we are at and develop a bipartisan basis for a new strategy,” one focused on exploiting opportunities rather than just dealing with threats and crises.


Officers voiced concerns about the “growing irrelevancy” of the Department of State or the Foreign Service. Reasons for the concern varied. Some pointed to our inability to respond fast enough to the challenges of the information revolution. Several made the point underscored by the CSIS report and others that State needs to realize that power and value in the future will reside in rapidly sorting, interpreting, shaping, and sharing information rather than holding it exclusively: “reporting and information management have to change.” Others noted that the diplomacy of the coming decade would involve “educating decision makers and public opinion at home and abroad.” A new balance must be struck between a more traditional “close-hold security mind set” and one that puts the principles and “capabilities of the Internet and the information revolution to work on behalf of U.S. foreign policy priorities.” Some question whether this will be possible without leaders who are themselves Internet savvy.

Many believe “a nineteenth-century Foreign Service diplomatic culture” will make the Service irrelevant in the coming decade. Some believe this culture produces an “insular mind set” or “an arrogant operating style,” which then turns potential allies into adversaries in the interagency process, especially when others have resources and State does not. Some see progress with the “emergence of habits of outreach and cooperation” on the part of some officers as they work within State, in the interagency process, and with nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and business. However, many noted that we have made little progress where such habits are most needed — with Congressional staffers and their principals, citizens groups, and grass roots movements, both domestically and internationally.

Two or three people mentioned McKinsey and Company’s “War for Talent” survey, which they felt substantiates their concerns about institutional relevancy. They noted that its findings raise questions about State and the Foreign Service remaining relevant employment options for the “best and brightest” of the younger generation. Two people questioned whether we needed “the best;” others felt we do; still others asked “the best of what for what purpose?” When reminded about the report, few people held out hope for the needed long-term response, given upcoming elections.

A plurality of officers stressed that to remain relevant, the FSO corps quickly needs to become more literate and operationally effective in multilateral diplomacy and in the issues under the authority of the Under Secretary for Global Affairs (G) and the bureaus of Political-Military Affairs (PM), Arms Control (AC), Nonproliferation (NP), and Verification & Compliance (VC). One under secretary pointed out the limited number of FSOs in most functional policy bureaus (often 30 percent or less), noting that other services and agencies are “leading global issue policy.” Another under secretary lamented limited Foreign Service influence in trade policy and negotiations and found disturbing the prospect of a “Foreign Service without real foreign policy capabilities,” i.e., one that only provides program management, administrative and consular services. Two assistant secretaries expressed concern that the “global policy bureaus are eating our lunch,” a perception met with incredulity in those bureaus, given their staffing issues.

Many officers feared growing irrelevancy “if we just keep doing what we know how to do.” Asserting that “the Embassies are the only things that really work anymore,” some officers feared that this would cause the Foreign Service to retreat further to its “instinct for the bilateral” in the face of globalization and growing requirements for multilateral expertise. While one or two senior officers asserted that we should remain focused on area expertise and field experience — “our real value-added expertise” — others despaired that the Foreign Service is becoming nothing more than a “bilateral platform custodian” or that it is merely “fulfilling a concierge function” for other agencies at Embassies. Close to half of the senior officers interviewed expressed concern that the Service produces “conal specialists” rather than the multidimensional, multi-skilled “integrators and coordinators” they believe will be required in the coming decade.

The challenge of remaining “relevant” was seen by some related to “ a declining commitment to the principle of a professional diplomatic corps.” The emergence of “power politics over professionalism” was cited as an example. As one person put it, if we are to be relevant, we must “get the public and the Secretary to view the Foreign Service as a national asset to be used.” Many senior officers noted the set of skills George Shultz brought to the Department in this regard.


Opinion among senior officials was unanimous on the subject of resources: State and the Foreign Service cannot function effectively and maximize the benefits of integration with the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and the U.S.Information Agency (USIA) — much less modernize themselves — without substantial new resources now. As one senior official described it: with $300 million in deferred physical infrastructure maintenance and no shedding of workload commensurate with the roughly 1,000-person Foreign Service downsizing since 1994, “our institutional base is hollowed out.”


The implication of the challenges identified above is that institutional renewal will also be a major challenge for U.S. diplomacy in the coming decade. In this regard, some officers cited the need for a broadly experienced “permanent chief of staff” or permanent “under secretary for diplomatic readiness” to lead a long-term process focused on strategic institutional renewal. Such a function would bridge administrations, serve bipartisan interests, and ensure that the Secretary’s and the President’s institutional assets are ready to meet their and the nation’s needs. Others called for a legislative initiative analogous to Goldwater-Nicholas in response to what they see “a dysfunctional institutional infrastructure.” Several lamented the lack of clearly articulated and publicly benchmarked reform goals and objectives.

Officers as a whole did not perceive or acknowledge important efforts already underway to promote institutional change. Many dismissed State’s Strategic Planning Process as a labor-intensive paper process that lacks follow-through and real consequences for resource allocation. The most common response to questions about State’s Mission Statement, its Accountability Report to Congress, the Leadership and Management Training Continuum, and the Overseas Presence Panel (OPAP) was “What’s that?” or “I haven’t seen it.” Somehow the word is not getting through to the troops that real efforts are being made to address institutional distress. A twice-yearly employee satisfaction or “organizational climate” survey might help in this regard. It would:

  • pick up on these kinds of perception gaps,
  • help refine and benchmark the implementation of ongoing management initiatives, and
  • provide an ongoing mechanism for identifying and responding to emerging employee concerns about institutional or system issues and provide a clear framework for action.

In general, respondents conveyed a strong sense of “victimhood” regarding the decline of State and the Foreign Service. Everyone is looking to someone else to solve the problem. The responses to questions about “core values” provide yet another insight into the status of our institutional culture.

CORE VALUES: Crucial but Confused —
If We Have Them, We Need To Live Them

There is hardly an organizational development or leadership guru today who does not stress the fundamental role of clear values and a clear understanding of mission and purpose in successful organizations. To quote just one of many books on the subject, Leadership Is an Art:

“Shared ideals, shared ideas, shared goals, shared respect, a sense of integrity, a sense of quality, a sense of advocacy . . . must be explicit. . . . We must work to maintain these values. Successful corporations tend to become institutions. Institutions foster bureaucracy, the most superficial and fatuous of all relationships. Bureaucracy can level our gifts and our competence. Tribal elders must insistently work at the process of corporate renewal. They must preserve and revitalize the values of the tribe. They nourish a scrutiny of corporate values that eradicates bureaucracy and sustains the individual. Renewal comes through genuine service to others. It cannot come about through a process of mere self-perpetuation. Renewal is an outward orientation of service, rather than an inward orientation of maintenance.”

Core Values Matter

Senior officers uniformly asserted the importance of core values as the qualities and attributes that define a corps or a corporation and the way each conducts its business. They cited the Marines (Honor, Courage and Commitment), West Point (Duty, Honor, County) and Motorola (The Motorola Way) as values-based organizations.

Mid-level and junior officers familiar with the concept of “core values” agreed about their importance for a number of reasons:

  • “Meaningful core values build cohesion.”
  • Core values infuse work with “meaning that transcends the mundane.”
  • Core values “attract recruits who already embody them.”
  • In large and/or mobile organizations, “core values increase efficiency” because employees within the organization who do not know each other “can make certain assumptions about one another” based on shared values.
  • Core values “infuse and reflect the spirit of an organization.”

No Agreement on What the Values Are

FSOs did not agree on whether their institution has core values or if it does, what they are; there were pronounced differences among senior, mid-level, and junior officers on this issue. All but two senior officers interviewed believe the Foreign Service has “core values;” however, this group was split fifty-fifty on whether the Department of State has them. Close to half of mid-level and junior officers were unsure whether State or the Foreign Service has core values. Only one person thought our evaluation system reflected core values, suggesting that perhaps they were embodied in the precepts.

Appendix I contains a consolidated list of the “core values” identified by respondents. Agreement on values declines as seniority declines. Of those who believe core values exist, all agreed that they are not articulated but rather that they are “absorbed by osmosis” or “by example.” Senior and junior officers identified values that are positive; a substantial number of mid-level officers identified values that are negative.

The list of ascribed values betrays confusion about the definition of the word “value.” Whatever the definition, however, twenty out of forty-eight of mid-level officers interviewed believe neither State nor the Foreign Service has core values. Among those who believe core values exist, many of the “core values” cited are negative:

“Look out for yourself, no one else will;”
“Don’t rock the boat;”
“Rank has privilege but not accountability;” and
“Everything is negotiable.”

The core values most cited by Junior Officers were “hard work,” “equal opportunity employment (EEO) or fairness,” and “teamwork” in that order.

A single mid-level officer pointed out that in fact the Department of State does have formal core values; they have been published on page seven of the Department of State Strategic Plan (See Appendix II). Compare this list with the list in Appendix I and draw your own conclusions. The list of reasons junior officers came into the Service (Appendix III) this year offers further insights. Notice in particular that eleven junior officers joined to “serve their country” and only four junior officers listed service as a Foreign Service core value after initial training.

To return to the point made earlier about the need for better and more systematic communication with the troops, it appears that the Strategic Plan core values list was not arrived at through a process that involved significant employee buy-in and has not been incorporated as a meaningful component of our corporate culture. Given that virtually no one believed such a list existed, it is clear that, thus far, no effort has been made to relate these values to daily work and life at the Department of State. The discrepancy between ascribed values and observed behavior was a source of harsh criticism from many officers. As someone said, “What people say and what I see do not match.”

A number of officers voiced the following sentiment in different ways: Every organization has a distinct culture that shapes its work environment, and the most successful ones inculcate a “shared vision” and well-defined “common institutional values.” If this is true, the Foreign Service and the Department of State appear to be “values challenged.”

Symptomatic Cynicism

A few people consider cynicism a serious cultural issue and symptomatic of a breakdown of core values. Most officers acknowledged that proximity to power politics breeds a certain amount of cynicism and that’s OK, even healthy in our business. (As one noted, “We are not playing in Goldilock’s sandbox.”) On the other hand, “unrelieved cynicism becomes corrosive,” and the perception of this troubles some observers.

One senior official believes that the prospect of ambassadorships for FSOs damages senior Service leadership. In this person’s view, appointments for career officers should be capped at deputy chief of mission (DCM). Once officers accept an ambassadorship, they should have to resign from the Service and play only in the political process.

Another official believes that “Foreign Service cynicism is but a mask for the idealism underneath.” In the wake of Foreign Service downsizing, speculated another, “cynicism is a rational defense to preempt being hurt by an institution one no longer trusts do to the right thing.” Cynicism is passed on to new employees constantly — within the first few weeks of A-100 for junior officers, not to mention the more sustained doses younger mid-level officers receive at every turn. Based on junior officer comments, mentors need to keep their own disappointments to themselves and inspire younger officers to feel they can contribute and help forge a brighter future for the Foreign Service and the country it serves. They want to feel inspired and needed, not like fools for having joined.

Draw on Idealism

A rich vein of idealism still runs through the Foreign Service; we need to draw on it and reawaken its spirit by engaging especially younger officers in the challenge of long-term institutional renewal. The Foreign Service Oral History Project would like to serve as a resource in this regard. As a depository of institutional history and folklore, it is ready to share its documentation of “Foreign Service unsung heroes,” men and women who dared, who took initiative, who led and who made a difference.

The project believes it could help respond to the needs of officers who have expressed a desire for “more than a technical orientation to their new profession.” “Without ignoring the warts, or playing Pollyanna,” the project would like to expose new officers to more diplomatic and foreign policy history: “Officers need to see themselves as inheritors of a diplomatic tradition of noble (not to be confused with elite) proportions.” A number of junior officers expressed a desire for just such content in A-100. A number of junior officers professed “no knowledge of foreign policy or diplomatic history,” and advocated a “quick course” in the topic based on books or a reading list to be provided in advance to new recruits. Officers need to be connected with the best of the Service’s commendable history and be challenged to help prepare it to meet the future.

FSOs care deeply about their country and its role in the world. Self-interest aside, all expressed genuine concern that U.S. foreign policy — irrespective of administration — can only be as strong as its foreign affairs and diplomatic institutional infrastructure. Senior officers share a passionate belief in the value of diplomacy in forging a better world, and younger officers want to feel the same. But to do this, they need a better understanding of what the diplomatic profession entails and what it takes to be a good diplomat in the twenty-first century.

Be Clear What We Are About and Why

Diplomats’ Dual Functions

Most experienced officers confidently assert that the reason the Foreign Service exists is to serve as the country’s diplomatic and consular service, both of which flow from articles of domestic and/or international law. To paraphrase Fletcher University’s Professor of Diplomatic History Alan Henrikson, professional practitioners of diplomacy form one of the “constitutive orders of the international system,” since at least the Congress of Vienna.

Diplomatic services around the world not only represent and serve national interests. They also serve a larger international purpose, that of knitting the multi-state system together through a web of relationships and common parlance, practice and values that facilitate relations and negotiations among contending nation states. Diplomats constitute something of an international guild characterized by a common tradecraft. As such, they help order a messy international arena. The Internet, NGOs, and Wall Street now also provide opinionated new players in this arena, but they do not yet speak for the nation states. The challenge for diplomats of the future will be to incorporate in their “state-centered roles” skills and modalities that recognize and maximize the positive values “new non-state players” bring to the diplomatic arena.

The services that diplomats provide to their homeland and to the larger international system include but are not limited to: two-way education, advocacy, negotiation, conflict resolution, representation, coalition and alliance building, cross cultural interpretation, consular services, facilitation, and the collection and transmission of privileged information. Without such predictably available services, international relations would be even more problematic than they are. If the international diplomatic corps did not exist, the serious states of the world would have to reinvent it, the Internet notwithstanding. As America looks to the foreign affairs challenges of the next decade, renewing and strengthening the long-term institutional infrastructure of our lead foreign affairs and diplomatic organizations is a prudent investment.

Know What We Are Training For

The first requirement is to “know what we are training for.” Younger officers unsure about their professional identity believe training is one way to define it, but they do not know what “it” is. Formal training requirements would help define the skills and experience that provide officers with the “credentials” needed to qualify as “diplomats” and “foreign affairs professionals.” As yet no one has defined “the credentials,” anymore than they have meaningfully defined “core values.” We need to do both.

Several officers pointed out the inherent conflict between traits valuable to diplomacy — ambiguity, unstated understandings, compromise, conflict avoidance, infinite negotiation, process for the sake of process — and those required for effective organizational management and leadership — clarity of mission, articulated values, clear goals, objectives and expectations, honest feedback, and results-based performance. How one interacts with and operates in the diplomatic context may not be the most effective way to develop competent personnel and build an organization. We need to develop officers who are proficient in both functions. As one junior officer put it, “I can’t tell if all the ambiguity around here has a real purpose or if it’s just an excuse for people not knowing what they are doing. I’m afraid it’s the latter.”

“Be More Like the Military When It Comes to Training”

Many senior and mid-level officers advocated greater definition and the accountability that goes with it in almost every dimension of Service life. Many senior officers said that the Service should “be more like the military,” especially in the area of training. In the military, they pointed out, “training goes way beyond skills; it reflects a core value, builds individual competence and conveys a corporate sense of purpose.” Both mid-level and senior officers called for “more across-the-board-discipline” involving training requirements, assignments and performance standards.

A number of officers at all ranks would like to see the Foreign Service emulate the military by developing exemplary career paths with required training for different kinds of career goals at the FSO-1 and Senior Foreign Service levels, e.g., ambassador, DCM, consul general, multilateral mission head, master multilateral negotiator, regional specialist, deputy assistant secretary, executive director, and office director. Some felt identifying such paths could be a prelude to identifying training and types of assignments required to qualify officers for promotion; others (particularly younger officers) just want a better idea of the kinds of assignments that might help them get from point A to point B. Many were skeptical of “formal ticket punching,” but an equal number (often with reference to the military) thought the time has come to “make it happen.”

There seemed to be a strong desire for what the military calls “doctrine,” although the word itself made most senior officers flinch. One officer pointed out that we already have it: the Foreign Affairs Manual. There were pervasive calls from juniors to seniors for greater “clarity,” “articulation,” “definition” of the following: mission, expectations, core values, desired results, required training, required or demonstrated professional skills, career paths, and types of assignments and training required for promotion.

Efforts at the bureau level, e.g., Consular Affairs, Western Hemisphere Affairs and European Affairs, to more clearly define and articulate expectations and values have reaped positive results. Such efforts should be widely publicized and encouraged as good models for others to embrace. A similar effort will be required in the context of any long-term initiative to modernize and renew State and the Foreign Service as institutions. However, many officers cautioned that “sloganeering won’t do it;” we need to see everyone “walking the talk.”

Junior officers have been quick to pick up on the fact that unlike the military, training is not valued in the Foreign Service, that senior officers brag about never having had training except for foreign languages. In contrast to their elders, younger officers regard well-developed training programs as a mark of a “serious organization,” the only kind of an employer they are interested in working for. They want their organization to stake out its mission clearly, define its expectations, develop its people, encourage change and innovation, and either get the resources required or scale back the mission. They do not think it is reasonable to be told that it is their job to “lift the invisible veil and figure out the real questions and answers that lie behind it.”

Mid-level and junior officers thirst for leadership — “for someone who cares about the officers below.” As one mid-level officer put it, “If assistant secretaries think their most important job is to draft and redraft talking points, then we have failed.” From senior officers through junior officers there seems to be a large body of opinion in favor of defining and articulating the skills and experience that qualify FSOs as “diplomats and foreign policy professionals.”

Don’t Take No for an Answer on Creating a “Training Float”

Most officers cautioned that any move toward a required training regime would require a fifteen-twenty percent personnel “training float.” Some felt the need for training is so great that the Service should demonstrate the urgency to Congress by identifying the work or functions that the Service will eliminate in order to establish an initial mandatory regime. It should not take “no” for an answer. Most people were unaware that the Department has tried unsuccessfully to obtain the training float. There is strong feeling that we must be more specific about our needs in this area, explaining just how the “float” would be used and the results we would expect. Our current efforts will simply not produce the quality of officers needed in 2010.

The “training float” is also crucial to maintaining diversity. Expanded ethnic, gender and class diversity within the Service means that new officers do not bring homogeneous backgrounds, expectations, preparation and skills to the job. Real inclusiveness means helping everybody understand how things operate and what is expected. As one junior officer pointed out, “A bunch of us have no background in foreign policy and diplomacy and are not even sure why we were selected.” Given the global challenges facing the United States and the challenge of leveraging the varied strengths of an increasingly diverse corps of officers, we have no option but to turn State into a “learning institution” if we want to develop and retain quality officers in the coming decade.

What Kind of Officers Do We Want to Develop?

Experienced FSOs quickly point out that the classic attributes of a good diplomat will continue to provide a starting point for professional formation today, the same as in the fifteenth century. Identified as important attributes are:

curiosity, cultivation, insight, discretion, loyalty, personal and intellectual integrity, good judgment, foreign language ability, broad contacts at home and in the host country, the confidence of one’s leader, excellent speaking, writing, listening, reporting and negotiating skills, and so on. But this will just be the starting point!

The American diplomat of 2010 will also have to focus on another set of requirements inherent to the profession, although less articulated: “building teams and coalitions in both the domestic and international arenas,” “exercising multilateral as well as bilateral diplomatic expertise,” developing a “sound grounding in international law” and the linkages between economic and political power management. Truly non-traditional requirements include: “broad scientific and technological literacy” that reaches from outer space to the depths of the oceans; Internet skills and Web literacy; a strong “understanding of Internet processes and capabilities;” program and resource management expertise, and “effective engagement with grass roots phenomena and non-state players.“ Developing good diplomats takes time. If we want state-of-the-art in 2010, we must begin developing them today!

Many senior officers, comparing the diplomat of the future to themselves, are impressed by how much more future diplomats will need to know. In his book on understanding globalization, Tom Friedman echoes this sentiment as he describes the six dimensions of “knowledge arbitrage” that “students, diplomats, journalists, professors, spies and social scientists” must now constantly perform in order to function effectively in a globalizing world: politics, culture, national security, economics, technology, and ecology. Also important is a solid understanding of the consequences of the democratizations of technology, finance, information and decision making and how to take advantage of these processes. As Friedman says, if “you cannot see the interactions that are shaping the world, you surely cannot strategize about the world … in this more complex and fast-paced system, management and leadership matter more.”

Rethinking the Cone System

Many officers believe that the Foreign Service’s traditional on-the -job professional apprentice system “has broken down” and fails to develop “whole officers” who possess the combination of issue management and resource management skills now required. Many mid-level and senior officers advocate “updating cones” in order to produce “truly multifunctional officers instead of narrow conal specialists.” The following sentiments were common:

  • “We need to blur conal distinctions or get rid of them.”
  • “Cones have to change.”
  • “Political officers need to speak ‘resource management’ and admin officers need to speak ‘policy.’”
  • “We need to recognize that policy and resources are one and the same and stop supporting the Department of State lie that they are different.”
  • “You make policy when you apply resources.”

Fewer officers took the position that a two-cone system is desirable but unworkable. Others commented that the current cone system has bred harmful stereotypical thinking about cones and “internecine caste warfare,” both of which weaken the Service. One officer wrote, “I have heard so many cross-cone disparaging remarks that it must reflect something deeper than a mere joke at another colleague’s expense.” Noted another, “Cross training would build greater solidarity within the Foreign Service.” The two-cone proposal was first recommended over a decade ago; perhaps it is time to reconsider it.

To deal with the concerns expressed above, one senior officer suggests a single requirement or alternating assignments between policy/issue management jobs and resource management jobs at least up through the first or second 0-2 assignment. Others thought requirements should be drawn more tightly to include an initial consular tour for everyone before alternation sets in. Several agreed on the need for “documented” crisis management operations experience or a single “Operations Center or Secretariat tour” before passing to 0-1.

The “integrated FSO” model could incorporate and build on existing conal designations. Given the integration of ACDA and USIAinto the Department, the concept of alternating assignments assumes that policy/issue management jobs and resource management jobs will roughly balance each other. Requiring alternating assignments between the two skill-set groups would make clear a desire for more well-rounded, whole officers in lieu of more narrow “conal specialists.” If this requires remanding some current FSO positions to specialist status, this should be explored.

Views on Formal Training Needs

There is a marked difference of attitude toward formal training between senior officers and junior and mid-level officers. The former give lip service to the importance of training, but would clearly not like to admit that they could be spared to do it; their promotability (and self esteem) would suffer. Mid-level officers blame their bosses for not letting them take the training that is available. Juniors accept that they must learn a lot on the job, but want a substantive framework or context for that experience in addition to the “technical information” they get in A-100 and initial tradecraft training related to conal specialties. Many officers advocate formal training followed by a related assignment. Some also advocate linked domestic and overseas assignments in the areas of global issues, similar to that which occurs with policy and admin officers going from abroad from geographic bureaus.

Officers give the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) high marks for its long-term econ course and its foreign language, admin and consular training. Reviews are more mixed with regard to area studies, tradecraft, management, and global issues training. One has the sense that the haphazard nature of training experienced by most officers detracts from its overall value and impact. The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA), which has begun requiring basic management training for all first time supervisors, praised courses in this area. FSI has worked hard to strengthen environment, science and technology training, but the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) and the senior adviser for Arms Control and International Arms control (T) bureaus believe there is more that could and should be done to develop course content related to their issues.

Some officers think that FSI should provide training for Schedule C (non career) appointees in Washington. To wit, a Schedule C deputy assistant secretary complained bitterly to the author last year about not having had any training for his position and wanted to know why FSI was not required to provide such. Only because this person knew the esteem in which he was held did he get an honest response: Up until the Eighties, it was assumed that deputy assistant secretaries had served a fifteen- to twenty-year apprenticeship for the position.

Younger officers are interested in the prospect of the new Leadership and Management School, but few were familiar with the recently published Leadership and Management Training Continuum, which needs broader circulation and perhaps a more concise format. Again, the concern is that supervisors will not let subordinates off to attend classes, especially given the current staffing deficit. A number of officers cautioned that the new school should be careful not to confuse “sensitivity training” with leadership skills and management techniques. Several wanted to know how “leadership” will be defined, skeptical because of what they perceive to be a core value of “not rocking the boat.” A number of junior officers recommended that A-100 include “shadow time” or a “short tour” in the relevant bureau before their first overseas assignment in order to better understand the requirements and expectation of Washington leadership. (This is now beginning to happen.)

There is broad agreement that in a globalizing world all officers will need a sound grounding in basic economics and that economic officers will require a truly sophisticated grasp of their subject matter, particularly if they are to retain credibility with the economic elites of other developed and industrializing nations. Current statistics indicate that a significant number of new junior officers slotted to be econ officers have no economics background. This suggests that the economic function could benefit from both more basic training and more targeted recruitment.

Another new requirement will be general “global issues literacy.” More than half the senior officers emphasized the need for greater “science and technology literacy.” Such training is required in order for FSOs to:

  • work more effectively with technical experts in the inter agency context and abroad;
  • meaningfully manage our many bilateral S&T arrangements and agreements;
  • work on non-proliferation and other security issues, and
  • maintain a credible role in the growing number of economic, commercial, trade, environment, and political-military issues under negotiation at the regional and global levels.

A basic introduction to the fundamentals of international law and some of the international legal frameworks under development (criminal, environmental, trade, commercial, maritime) would help all officers better integrate and leverage global, regional, and bilateral interests. Such training would also provide invaluable preparation for aspiring multilateral negotiators. More uniform exposure to the principles, processes, and issues related to promoting “rule of law” would help all officers identify and take advantage of targets of opportunity, irrespective of conal functions. Some familiarity with law enforcement would no doubt help diplomats protect broad — rather than very narrow — U.S. interests involved in many narcotics, international crime, and terrorism issues.

The continued growth of international and regional diplomatic processes and negotiations will require more officers trained and experienced in these matters in the coming decade. One of our most senior officers noted that in just the last two years he has become convinced of “the urgent need for the Foreign Service to become known for something other than its traditional bilateral expertise.” “This won’t happen naturally without structured pressure tied to advancement,” he believes. As “conference diplomacy” related to international negotiations and regional processes proliferates, the Foreign Service needs to decide whether it is going to develop a cadre of officers to meet these needs or not. If it is, it will need to think through and build career paths for such officers, paths that will build on initial bilateral experience and language learning (preferably UN languages) and then be sequenced with training and assignments designed to develop more “master negotiators“ than the Service has at its disposal today.

Finally, officers believe we have only begun to respond to the imperatives of the information revolution when it comes to IT and public diplomacy. Officers need not only personal IT skills but also a broader grasp of IT applications, capabilities, emerging developments and what these mean, not only for State and the Foreign Service as institutions but also for host country politics, economics and culture. Officers need to move beyond seeing public diplomacy as “something USIA does.” Rather, public diplomacy needs to be embraced as a basic component of professional diplomatic know-how. Numerous officers noted that in an Internet world, policy officers may not be reporters as much as they will be “sorters, evaluators and interpreters of information;” “they will need to be strategic shapers of public opinion” through the dexterous use of IT and public diplomacy techniques and programs. They will need to move from a passive observer role to one more active and focused on shaping the flow of information and events.


Coherent Culture

This paper’s 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 Department’s 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 Department’s 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 nation’s diplomatic and consular corps can be in representing and negotiating the country’s 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 country’s 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 military’s 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 other’s “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 “doesn’t have a constituency,” “Congress doesn’t like us,” “the Seventh Floor doesn’t care,” and “nothing’s 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 administration’s 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 everyone’s 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 nation’s 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 nation’s 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 America’s diplomatic institutional infrastructure and articulate how they will contribute to this endeavor. As professionals and citizens, we can and should do no less.  

  RETURN TO KINNEY : 1 • 2 • 3 • 4 • 5  


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 country’s diplomatic service in 2010.

Stephanie Smith Kinney
Senior Seminar Project
February 2000

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 Secretary’s 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 Department’s Family Liaison Office.

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