by Christopher Jones
MANAGING FOGGY BOTTOM
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s unveiling of a plan to overhaul the way the Department of State does its work is a fitting juncture to consider her predecessor’s organizational legacy. In speech at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, Rice articulated a bold, new vision for U.S. diplomacy at the start of her second year as secretary of state. “Transformational diplomacy,” in her words, “not only reports about the world as it is, but seeks to change the world itself.” Specifically, it seeks “to work with…partners around the world, to build and sustain democratic, well-governed states that will respond to the needs of their people and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system.” To fulfill this mission large numbers of diplomats will be repositioned from Europe to pivotal states in the developing world. Mobile teams of diplomats will be established to respond to transnational and regional challenges. Diplomats will be expected to serve at hardship posts; and they will need to acquire expertise in at least two regions and fluency in two languages to secure promotion to the senior ranks of the Foreign Service. The State Department’s presence will be extended to the hinterlands of developing states through one-person posts and virtual diplomacy. Diplomats will be assigned to military commanders as political advisors; and the department’s recently created Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization will be strengthened and expanded to aid democratic transitions around the globe.1
Colin Powell could not have contemplated or pursued such sweeping change during his tenure. However, Rice’s recently announced initiatives would not be possible today had her predecessor not exercised attentive and successful leadership at State. Powell did not ignore the other side of the job. Instead he revitalized a decaying department and laid a solid foundation for Rice’s intended transformation.
THE TWO SIDES OF POWELL’S RECORD
Today the end of the story is well known. Powell did not live up to the conventional wisdom and emerge as President Bush’s foreign policy vicar. Rather he was marginalized within the Bush foreign policy team, more often than not losing out to Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in the struggle to shape the administration’s foreign policy. As early as September 2001, just a week before the 9/11 attacks, Time Magazine ran a cover story, “Odd Man Out,” asking: “Where Have You Gone, Colin Powell?5 After the attacks Powell became an effective front man on the international stage for the Bush White House, but held little sway on the substance of policy. Once the focus shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq in late 2002 and early 2003, he found himself virtually isolated. Powell’s deputy, Richard Armitage, likened his boss’s predicament to being in the administration’s “refrigerator.”6 One U.S. official recalls being told by French President Jacques Chirac, “When Powell agrees with us, we know it doesn’t mean anything.”7
To suggest Powell never prevailed within Bush’s inner circle of foreign policy advisers would be wrong. There were successes. He wrestled control of postwar Iraq away from the Pentagon and convinced the president to select Paul Bremer, a career State Department official, as the civilian administrator. Before the war it was Powell who insisted that the president go to the United Nations Security Council for a resolution of support on Iraq. However, Ivo Daadler’s observation that “Powell wins style and atmospherics. Rumsfeld wins policy and substance,”8 places Powell’s limited number of “victories” into perspective. In terms of the issues most central to the Bush administration’s foreign policy — Iraq, North Korea, Middle East peace talks, and U.S. opposition to various international treaties — Powell lost repeatedly and often in humiliating fashion. It was not uncommon for his preferences and public statements to be reversed or contradicted by Cheney, Rumsfeld, or President Bush, often publicly. For those observers familiar with the role of the U.S. secretary of state over the last 50 years and the political disadvantages that often accompany the position, Powell’s weakness as a foreign policy adviser is not all that surprising even for a man with impressive personal resources.
What is surprising, based on recent history, is that a complete assessment of Colin Powell’s four-year service as secretary of state cannot begin and end with an evaluation of his performance as a foreign policy adviser. Unlike many of his predecessors, who devoted the preponderance of their time, energy and political capital to their diplomatic duties and foreign policy advisory roles, Powell came to office determined to be an active and effective manager of the U.S. Department of State. In stark contrast to his performance as a foreign policy adviser, Powell was a successful leader at State. John Naland, former president of the American Foreign Service Association, labeled Powell, “easily the best leader and manager State has seen since George Schultz…As far as the Foreign Service is concerned, Powell has been an absolute standout.”9 The Foreign Affairs Council, a non-partisan umbrella group of 11 organizations, wrote of Powell’s management in its November 2004 task force report: “In short, the achievements have been extraordinary — even — historic…To use the vernacular, the Powell team has “talked the talk” and “walked the walk.” The Secretary has been an exemplary CEO of the State Department. When he departs, he will leave the institution infinitely stronger than he found it.”10
INGREDIENTS FOR SUCCESS
Coupled with the willingness for organizational change was an opportunity: a new secretary of state with a record of leadership and managerial experience, not to mention impressive interpersonal skills and a reservoir of political capital to tap. Distinguishing Powell from his predecessors, Congressman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) observed, “Powell is the first secretary of State since George Marshall of the Truman era to bring to his office substantial experience in running a large government bureaucracy.”13 More important, even before Powell was presented a copy of the “SOS for DOS” letter on February 2, 2001, he had signaled his commitment to be an active and engaged chief executive officer. During his first days at secretary, Powell pledged to State Department employees and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “I am not coming in just to be the foreign policy adviser to the President, I am coming in as the leader and the manager of this Department.”14
Accompanying this commitment was an early demonstration of Powell’s willingness to expend his political capital on behalf of his new department. He persuaded President Bush to visit Foggy Bottom on February 15, 2001 and address several hundred State Department employees. Departing from the presidential contempt that is often directed toward State, Bush remarked, “It’s sometimes said that State is the one federal department that has no domestic constituency. Well, whoever said that is wrong. Let me assure that between me and Secretary Powell, you have a constituency.”15 Then in a rare presidential gesture, Bush stuck around for a swearing-in ceremony for new Foreign Service Officers, “the first time in recent memory that a President [had] done so.” Soon thereafter, Powell convinced the administration to ask Congress for a “19 percent increase in federal spending at the State Department, even though the average increase in federal spending was only 4 percent.”16 In early appearances on Capitol Hill, he made it abundantly clear to the House International Relations and Senate Foreign Relations Committees that he would be asking for a significant and immediate commitment of national resources to State’s revitalization efforts.17
Powell’s expenditure of political capital was reinforced by a true “hands on” approach to State Department management. Deputy Secretary of State Armitage related in 2002 that Powell “participated in endeavors in every region, in every functional area. His view is there is no problem in this department, be it in the mailroom, or in say, EUR Bureau, that’s outside his ken. And he has made that clear to the staff and he has made it clear to me.”18 Unlike his Clinton administration predecessors, Powell made it his regular practice to swear in ambassadors and new classes of Foreign Service Officers, chat with secretaries and maintenance workers, and hold morning staff meetings with undersecretaries and assistant secretaries. Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright did not hold such meetings, but rather relied on small cadres of trusted political appointees to communicate directives to mid-level managers.19
Powell’s engaged approach to State Department management was further complemented by his limited travel. In the summer of 2004 the official historian of the State Department released information that Powell was the least traveled secretary of state in 30 years, including a record of 45 percent fewer trips than Christopher, Albright, or James A. Baker, III.20 Over the course of his tenure, Powell also reduced “the average length of his trips, from 4.6 days in 2001 to 2.9 days [in 2004],” considerably less than the five day average of his immediate predecessors. Powell’s dislike of traveling, George Kennan’s recommendation to him on the importance of a being an accessible presidential adviser, and a personal desire to manage State’s bureaucracy all appeared to have contributed to Powell’s steady presence in Washington.21
Yet another ingredient of Powell’s success was his empowerment of State Department careerists. On his first day at Foggy Bottom, he told an assembly of State Department employees, “I am going to be asking so many of you to come up and tell me directly what you think. I want to try to make things move faster, cut through things more quickly. You are the experts. You know what’s going on.”22 After setting this tone Powell wasted no time in taking concrete action. As Bush prepared for his first state visit, a trip to Mexico, the secretary insisted that Foreign Service Officers from the Mexico desk brief the president. When Powell did his own traveling abroad, he made a conscious effort to limit the number of aides accompanying him from Washington, preferring instead to rely on the advice of ambassadors and their country teams. This was a distinct departure from the practices of his four immediate predecessors — Baker, Eagleburger, Christopher and Albright.23 In the same direction Powell was quick to eliminate nearly half (23 of 55) of the special envoy and ambassador-at-large positions that had emerged during the Clinton years.24 He also encouraged his undersecretaries and assistant secretaries to allow their career officers to respond directly to congressional inquiries.25
Last, Powell’s groundwork for success included his decision to set reasonable goals that a risk-averse organizational culture would accept. He vowed not to empower blue-ribbon panels or commission outside assessments of the State Department’s deficiencies, remarking to lawmakers during his confirmation hearings, “I’m drowning in studies.”26 Similarly, Powell did not pursue controversial proposals, such as integrating the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with State, or implementing sweeping structural changes, such as merging the department’s functional and geographic bureaus. As one observer noted, “Powell wasn’t planning a revolution. He believed radical reforms would take more energy than the limping department could muster.”27 This pragmatic view coupled with his longstanding predilection to solve discrete problems and tackle “nuts-and-bolts” issues led Powell to pursue organizational reform and revitalization in five areas: congressional relations, embassy construction and security, information technology, public diplomacy, and diplomatic readiness. Success in these areas provides the solid institutional foundation that Secretary Rice works from today.
WORKING THE HILL
In light of these circumstances, Powell made the improvement of congressional relations a top priority from the outset of his tenure. Departing from the practices of the past, he demonstrated a consistent willingness to be accessible to lawmakers and frequently testified before congressional committees to justify programs and appropriation requests. As Powell, once remarked, “I testify with relish.”30 He also encouraged his undersecretaries and assistant secretaries to make frequent appearances.
In addition, State’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs no longer guards its bureaucratic purview so as to hamper or regulate communications between the Hill and other bureaus at State. It remains the central conduit between Congress and State, but it now seeks to facilitate interaction between lawmakers and a range of State Department offices. The same bureau has also been restructured so a specific staff member is responsible for managing interactions with each House and Senate committee involved with foreign policy. Furthermore, Legislative Affairs has created training sessions for Foreign Service Officers on both the importance and the mechanics of fostering productive relationships on Capitol Hill. Perhaps most important, Legislative Affairs has set up a liaison office within the House of Representatives to perform a range of constituent services for members of Congress and to build contacts with the Pentagon’s legislative liaison teams.31
Powell’s efforts yielded tangible dividends. A survey of congressional staffers illustrated that one-third of those interviewed were aware that he and his subordinates had made a concerted effort to improve congressional relations.32 More important, Powell was successful in winning an immediate and substantial expansion in the State Department’s FY 2002 funding from Congress — a 13 percent increase over the $6.6 billion FY 2001 operating budget. By FY 2003 the same budget stood at $7.6 billion, followed by an increase to $9.1 billion in FY 2004.33 Impressively, Powell secured this budget increment even though there was a sentiment among some lawmakers that Foggy Bottom should reform before it was granted more resources. Over his tenure he also persuaded Congress that “increases for diplomatic readiness, information technology, overseas buildings and diplomatic security are permanent parts of the budget, not one-time catch-up costs.”35 This was a remarkable turnaround given the department’s budget was cut by 30 percent between 1991 and 1997 and 32 embassies and consulates were closed just as the number of newly independent countries in the world was rising.36 As Powell declared in 2003, “I could not have better support or relations from and with Congress. And I think it pays off.” 37
Despite these realities and the emergence of congressional appropriations to begin remedying these ills, the Foreign Affairs Council reported, “State’s Foreign Building office averaged less than one major building project per year between 1996 and 2000.”41 The office’s reputation for completing construction projects and security upgrades late and well over budget led to calls for privatization. Powell shunned such calls and instead transformed the operation. He pulled the office out of the Bureau of Administration and appointed retired Army Corps of Engineers Maj. Gen. Charles Williams to lead a new Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations. Williams proceeded to embrace private-sector real estate practices, while Powell, as noted in the previous section, secured a permanent line item in the budget for embassy construction and security.
One sign of Powell’s success was the fact that according to a 2004 State Department report the “[t]he Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) manages over $4 billion in projects worldwide, up from $0.7 billion at the end of 2001.” The average construction time for a new U.S. embassy also dropped from four years to two years.42 Moreover, Powell boasted in November 2004, “…we are now completing eight to ten new embassies every year. And when we took over, we were completing one every year or so. Close to 40 embassies are now under construction throughout the Department, all on time [and] under cost…”43 In FY 2003 alone the State Department saved $63 million dollars through OBO’s use of standard architectural designs, integrated design reviews, and sound accounting practices.44
Much of this aggressive embassy construction effort was intended to produce not only newer and more functional buildings, but also more secure ones. Of course, every diplomatic installation could not be rebuilt or moved to a more secure location away from busy city streets. Thus Powell oversaw a notable expansion of security upgrades at existing diplomatic posts. Improvements included new alarms systems, digital security cameras, duck-and-cover warning systems, entry/ballistic-resistant doors and windows, safe havens, and enhanced perimeter security including a proliferation of concrete barriers. The department reported in 2004 that “99.8 percent of the 1,269 physical security upgrade projects identified as of May 1, 2002 [had] been completed worldwide.”45 This substantial progress overseas was accompanied by renovation and security projects at State Department facilities in Washington, Rosslyn, and New York. Compared to the record of his immediate predecessors, Powell’s tenure at State had a dramatic and exceedingly positive impact on the organization’s infrastructure and safety.
A WIRED DIPLOMATIC CORPS
As with embassy construction and security, Powell successfully garnered the financial resources to make substantial quantitative and qualitative improvements in the organization’s information technology. For instance, a secure unclassified computer network with full Internet access was extended to 43,500 desktops during his tenure, making the State Department a fully wired bureaucracy for the first time in its history. This goal was reached in May 2003, under budget and ahead of schedule.47 Shortly thereafter a modernized classified network was installed at 224 embassies and consulates — every post that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security deemed eligible for such technology. In addition, a Global IT Modernization (GIT-M) program was launched to ensure that all computer hardware is kept state-of-the-art through an aggressive, four-year replacement cycle. Other changes equipped the institution with cutting-edge mainframes, updated secure telephones, and wireless emergency communication systems. Most recently, the State Department began under Powell’s leadership to replace its decades old cable and e-mail systems with one modern, secure, and fully integrated messaging and retrieval system.48
These impressive technological changes were complemented by the creation of a new 10-person office for e-Diplomacy in 2002. The unit was established to support State’s information revolution by finding ways to increase organizational efficiency through information technology, making the newly installed systems user-friendly, and continuing to identify new ways to send, store and access information.49 Furthermore, IT security was enhanced considerably. One department report indicated that by August 2004, 90.4 percent of State’s operational systems had been fully authorized and certified, earning the department OMB’s highest rating for IT improvement under the President’s Management Agenda (PMA). In part, achievements of this type were facilitated through Powell’s hiring of 530 new IT specialists (while controlling for attrition). Through an aggressive recruitment and retention program based on incentives and bonuses, the department’s vacancy rate for such positions, which was “over 30 percent five years ago, [was] essentially eliminated.”50 As with congressional relations and embassy construction and security, State’s information technology was enhanced significantly under Powell’s leadership.
REACHING OUT TO THE WORLD
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 elevated the importance of public diplomacy exponentially. Now Powell’s State Department had no choice but to be involved in the battle to win the hearts and minds of the world’s people, particularly those living in places like the Middle East. This imperative only intensified once the United States waged an internationally unpopular war in Iraq followed by an indefinite and equally unpopular occupation. However, the need for effective public diplomacy to mollify the image of a coercive hegemon now extended beyond the anti-American attitudes of the Middle East to regions, such as Latin America, Asia, and Europe. For instance, polls and studies in a number of Western European countries revealed a growing trend of public hostility toward U.S. foreign policy.53 One survey in 2003 revealed that 53 percent of European Union citizens considered the United States to be a “threat” to world peace, tying it with Iran and North Korea. A comparative review of State Department’s polling from 2002 and 2003 illustrated that people’s favorable view of the United States had dropped dramatically in Germany, France, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, to name just a few countries.54
To strengthen the State Department’s public outreach overseas, Powell oversaw a number of seemingly positive initiatives. Some of the more noteworthy included a new 24-hour Middle East Television Network featuring U.S. news and entertainment, a Chinese-language Internet service that receives an average of 20,000 requests for pages a day, an Arabic pop radio station and teen magazine with news provided by the U.S. government, and worldwide circulation of State’s Muslim Life in America (in 28 different languages). These steps were reinforced by organizational changes at the State Department. For example, new public diplomacy training courses were added to the curriculum at the Foreign Service Institute and the Public Diplomacy Office of Policy, Planning and Resources was established at State to conduct regular studies of the effectiveness of U.S. outreach programs.55 Of course, these efforts did not reverse negative world opinion toward the United States during Powell’s tenure. To this day such an outcome might be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, as long as certain U.S. policies, military actions and global power disparities persist. In short, there is much work to be done for practitioners of U.S. public diplomacy. Yet the developments under Powell do indicate that the State Department has become far more sensitive to the important role public diplomacy plays in contemporary international relations.
LARGER AND BETTER TRAINED
As a result, Powell’s goal was to hire more than 1,400 new employees annually over a three-year period. As was the case in other areas of organizational behavior, the new secretary was successful in securing congressional appropriations for diplomatic readiness. In FY 1997, for example, the overall size of the State Department’s workforce was 20,573, including 7,872 Foreign Service Nationals, 7,724 Foreign Service Officers and 4,977 members of the Civil Service. By FY 2004, the total number of men and women employed by State jumped to 27,238, which encompassed 8,419 Foreign Service Nationals, 10,988 Foreign Service Officers and 7,831 Civil Service professionals. This represented a seven-percent growth in the Foreign Service Nationals, an impressive 42 percent increase in the diplomatic corps and a remarkable 57 percent rise in Civil Service staffers, which include key specialists. In sum, these numbers account for the largest workforce expansion at the State Department in 30 years.59
Certainly more U.S. citizens were inclined to answer the call to national public service following the 9/11 attacks and the initiation of President Bush’s global war on terrorism in September 2001. However, Powell experienced recruitment success before these developments. Much of his first year in office preceded the tragic events of 9/11. While the role of 9/11 in State Department hiring was important, it alone cannot account for the surge in personnel or the fact that 8,000 people sat for the Foreign Service Exam in 2000 compared with 17,000 in 2002 and over 20,000 people in 2003 and 2004.60
Instead additional factors contributed to this dramatic change. For instance, the State Department augmented its annual career-marketing budget from $75,000 a year during the Clinton era to $1.2 million.61 It also sought to attract minority recruits by strategically targeting particular media outlets in the Latino and African-American communities. Two other innovations included an online application process for Civil Service specialists and additional points or credits for any department applicant who speaks a critical need foreign language, such as Arabic, Farsi, Korean, Chinese, Pashtu, Dari/Afghan, Tajiki, Urdu, and Uzbek. For those interested in the Foreign Service, the required written exam was administered by the Powell team on a predictable annual basis; and in two particular years, was given more than once. In the 1990’s there were two years when the exam was not even offered. In addition, the department instituted “oral prep sessions” and writing workshops across the country to assist candidates who make it beyond the written exam stage.62Furthermore, considerable energy was devoted to improving follow up with job candidates and reducing the delays within the various phases of the hiring process. In just one year, between 2001 and 2002, the average length of the hiring process dropped from 27 months to 10.63
The other major thrust of the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative was training. Powell assumed his new position convinced that the military afforded its personnel far more training than the Foreign Service Officers and Civil Service specialists received at State. Moreover, he believed his employees needed to be exposed to different forms of training — issues and capabilities beyond the traditional diplomatic curriculum.64 Consequently, a number of changes were introduced. The amount of available foreign language training was expanded significantly to complement the need and expectation for greater employee proficiency in critical languages. The department reported in 2004, “Our enrollments in language training have increased over 50% since 2001.”65 Similarly, there have been equally dramatic improvements in training related to information technology, public diplomacy, and crisis management with more employees receiving such training and at earlier points in their careers. Beyond adding more course offerings at the Foreign Service Institute, the Powell team also established a distance learning system with nearly 4,000 course options for overseas personnel. In all, the department estimated that 40 percent more training occurred at the State Department in FY 2004 than in FY 2001.66
Undoubtedly, the greatest innovation to State Department training in the Powell era was the institution of mandatory leadership and management training. One ambassador relates that Powell remarked in 2001 that it was “ridiculous” that most careerists had minimal, if any, training in these years.67 Insiders agreed. Two former diplomats, who quit out of frustration after only a couple years of service, wrote in 1999, “The bureaucracy is not the major problem at State, nor is it unmanageable; it simply unmanaged. Poor management is the real failing of the Foreign Service.”68 In an attempt to remedy these deficiencies, Powell created a policy that required leadership and management training for mid-level employees and expanded leadership training for those at the junior and senior ranks. Examples of the latter include a weeklong leadership class as part of the orientation program for new Foreign Service Officers and the “Senior Executive Threshold Seminar,” a two-and-a-half week leadership program for any employee receiving a senior-level promotion.69 The practice of regularly sending State Department officials to the U.S. Army War College for a leadership workshop also began under Powell. As of early 2003, 650 employees had completed the training in Carlisle, Pennsylvania with at least 7,000 members of the Foreign Service and Civil Service slated to participate by 2006.70 It was also during the Powell years that selected bureaus began to insist that Foreign Service Officers being considered for high-level positions, such as ambassadorial or deputy chief of mission appointments, pass reviews that include input from peers, not just supervisors.71 As Powell departed from State in early 2005 the standing plan was that courses in leadership and management training would be a “prerequisite for promotion” after 2006.
POWELL’S ORGANIZATIONAL LEGACY
Yet such an appraisal undervalues the tremendously positive impact Colin Powell’s leadership had at the State Department. When Powell walked into Foggy Bottom in January 2001, he encountered a critically underfunded bureaucracy with poor congressional relations, insecure and crumbling embassies, and antiquated information technology. The workforce was severely depleted, inadequately trained, and poorly managed. Not surprisingly these conditions created, in the words of Frank Carlucci, “a severe crisis in morale among employees.” Similarly, Robert Hunter observed, “It’s hard to remember a time when morale at the department has been lower.”73 But by the third year of Powell’s tenure, one of his undersecretaries, Grant Green, declared, “Morale is sky-high.”74
The reason for this transformation was simple: Powell transformed State in real and meaningful ways. There were tangible improvements, some fairly dramatic, in each of the areas that was an identified source of concern in January 2001. Moreover, he tackled organizational challenges that were of significant concern to careerists. This pragmatic, problem-solving approach had a profound impact on the lives of department employees, boosting their collective psyche and beginning a shift in the organization’s culture. When Powell left the department in January 2005, he left it in a far stronger position than he found it. In many respects, he laid the groundwork for making the Department of State a more viable and effective bureaucracy. It is no wonder why Rice acknowledged her predecessor as she outlined an ambitious plan75 for the next step in the State Department’s organizational development. Powell made a difference.
Christopher M. Jones earned his Ph.D. from The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. He is currently associate professor of political science at Northern Illinois University. His research interests are U.S. foreign policy and national security policy, with particular attention to the role of bureaucracy and bureaucratic politics. He is co-editor of The Future of American Foreign Policy 1999 and co-author of the forthcoming book “American Foreign Policy: Pattern and Process,” both with Eugene R. Wittkopf.