Skip to main content
Below is the American Foreign Service Association’s letter to Foreign Service Director General Ruth A. Davis transmitting new reform proposals. This package proposes changes to modernize the organizational

culture of the Foreign Service. The proposal is based on the perceived need to change the attitudes and abilities that are required for promotion within the Service.

Ambassador Ruth A. Davis
Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources
Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Ambassador Davis,

Our joint AFSA/DG cable of February 7, 2002 on reforming the Foreign Service spoke of the need to “shape a Foreign Service work force exhibiting the values and attitudes required for the successful conduct of 21st century diplomacy.” Clearly, tenuring and promotion panels play a critical role in shaping our work force. However, the widespread acknowledgement that today’s Foreign Service requires “reinvigoration” (as Secretary Powell puts it) raises the question of whether promotions have consistently gone those best demonstrating the attitudes and abilities needed to conduct modern diplomacy.

AFSA believes that they have not. We believe that a key cause for this has been that the core precepts that are faithfully followed by tenuring and promotion panels do not list some key attributes needed by 21st century diplomats. The precepts revisions that the Bureau of Human Resources proposed to AFSA on February 6 address some, but not all, of these gaps. In addition, however, we strongly believe that the following key attributes also need to be include in the core precepts:

— The moral courage to take responsible risks in order to achieve results. In other words, we need employees who seek opportunities instead of those who focus excessively on avoiding risks. To quote Secretary Powell in his book My American Journey: “What this inner circle [of senior Army officers] apparently concluded was that, yes, Powell got into trouble at [Ft.] Carson. However, he had done what he thought was right, and had risked putting his head in a noose* [Therefore] my future was not foreclosed.”

— The intellectual integrity to speak openly (within channels) and challenge the status quo in order to improve operations. In other words, we need employees who advocate strong positions during pre-decisional deliberations instead of those who only give their boss the conventional wisdom. As Secretary Powell states in his column in the February 2002 issue of State Magazine: “Dare to be the skunk at the picnic. Every organization should tolerate rebels who tell the emperor he has not clothes. This is not a license to be mean or rude. But make the tough decisions, confront people who need it, * speak your mind.”

— The commitment to work with a sense of urgency and care about the outcome. In other words, we need employees who exhibit a passion for their work instead of those who invest no emotional energy. As the Secretary explains in My American Journey: “I valued*a high energy level, a certain passion*and the drive to get things done.”

The existing core precepts for tenuring and promotion in the Foreign Service do not include those key elements. To the contrary, the precepts favor employees who “achieve harmonious results”; whereas the active promotion of U.S. interests in a dangerous world may not always produce harmonious outcomes. The precepts put an absolute premium on employees being “respectful”; whereas other organizations (including the military, Congress, and White House staff) value employees who forcefully state their views to colleagues and who exhibit passion for the issues for which they are responsible.

In AFSA’s view, the absence of moral courage, intellectual integrity, and commitment from the core precepts—added to the absolute premium that the precepts place on harmony, respectful behavior, and a “professional” demeanor—serves to perpetuate a risk-averse, form-over-substance culture in the Foreign Service.

Therefore, to answer Secretary Powell’s call for reinvigorating the Foreign Service, AFSA proposes the following changes to the core precepts:

1. Leadership Skills/Openness to Dissent/Junior-Level: Replace the current text with: “Demonstrates the intellectual integrity to speak openly (within channels) and challenge the status quo by presenting differing and dissenting views. Publicly supports official decisions, even when disagreeing with them.”

2. Leadership Skills/Openness to Dissent /Mid-Level: Replace “respectfully” with “constructively” to de-emphasize the premium put on atmospherics over substance.

3. Managerial Skills/Operational Effectiveness/Junior-Level: Add “Demonstrates the moral courage to take responsible risks in order to achieve results. Demonstrates commitment by working with a sense of
urgency and caring about the outcome.”

4. Interpersonal Skills/Social Perceptions/Mid-Level: Delete “harmonious” since achieving Department/Mission performance goals will not always produce a “harmonious” outcome (unless we give other agencies and foreign governments a veto power over our plans).

5. Interpersonal Skills/Persuasion and Negotiation/Junior-Level: Delete “respectful” to remove the current imperative to prize harmony over mission accomplishment.

We are certainly open to other ways to phrase these issues and we would be glad to meet with your staff to discuss this further.

Louise Kelleher Crane
State Vice President

Comments are closed.