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by Ambassador (ret.) Edward Marks

People have been talking about some basic reorganization of the State Department for nearly half a century.  In this analysis, a former Ambassador and career FSO provides us with one model for improvement.   –Ed.


Everyone agrees that diplomacy and international affairs have changed dramatically in the past half-century, and the changes are continuing.  One aspect of that change is the divergence between diplomacy and international affairs, terms, which were once close to synonyms.  But they are no longer so as two major systemic changes have occurred. First, international relations used to concern essentially relations between governments, largely conducted by ministries of foreign affairs (except for occasionally breaks where ministries of war took over) by a process usually referred to as diplomacy.  Increasingly, however, government-to-government relations involve the whole spectrum of government activities —now including inter alia education, environmental questions, human rights, the internet  — and ministries of foreign affairs have great difficulty in holding on to even a minimal gatekeeper role.  (They are more successful in some countries and less so in others, notably the U. S.).

The second big change has been the expansion of the players’ list, as international organizations, global companies, NGOs, global criminal organizations, transnational terrorist organizations, and individuals have come into the international affairs arena.  National governments may remain the biggest gorillas on the scene, but no longer are they alone.

This situation poses a major challenge to traditionally organized governments, in general, and to the United States in particular given its role in world. How to deal with this changed situation is a major topic of think tank activity these days, and reform proposals are abundant.  This paper discusses one approach, proposing the creation of a “Next Generation Department of State”.

First, however, there is a need to note an important caveat.  The usual reaction to the proposal outlined below is immediate rejection on one of two grounds:  it is nothing more than an imperial expansion of the State Department, and who in his right mind could believe that the Department of State could manage the challenge and tasks proposed.

But this proposal is not about folding a range of existing organizations and tasks into the present Department of State, a la the integration of USIA into State in the 1990s.  Instead its purpose is to disassemble State and create a new department, organized on different principals.  We may keep the name Department of State, for sentimental and historical reasons, but the Next Generation Department of State proposed here is a very different creature.  The analogy is removing the hood ornament from an automobile and moving a whole new vehicle in under it. Think of the original Volkswagen Beetle – and the current VW Passant!

The Next Generation Department of State
In the very early days of the Obama Administration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton enunciated her mantra of the Three Ds — Diplomacy, Development and Defense.  In doing so she, pinpointed USAID’s future role in and the future of development assistance writ large in the broader context of the conduct of American foreign affairs. To emphasize the importance of this approach and her – and presumably the Administration’s — intention to move on this approach, Secretary of State Clinton announced on July 10, 2009 that “to get ahead of emerging threats and opportunities and to make the case effectively for OMB, the Congress, and the people of our country for the resources we need, today” the Department and USAID will,” for the first time ever, conduct a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review”.

“The QDDR accomplishes two goals,” a State Department official told The Cable on background. It “moves our present planning from [a] year-to-year, annual appropriations-driven process. And it lashes up our two pillars, diplomacy and development,” which are currently “separated by two appropriations processes and separate bureaucracies.”

Still unclear, however, is Secretary Clinton’s vision of how wide a net she and the Administration intend to throw.  After all, no matter how you define it, departments and agencies other than the Department of State practice much American diplomacy, and departments and agencies other than USAID pursue much economic development.  In fact, at the moment twenty-seven or so agencies — in addition to those of the Department of Defense — have formal representation overseas: a veritable diaspora of bureaucracies.

In this situation there is no way to ensure that our message and actions are unified and consistent with overall foreign policy priorities and objectives.2   Only in the White House and in the individual Country Teams of American Embassies are these diverse programs considered as a total package.  Even then, limitations on presidential span of control and attention make any oversight sporadic and incomplete, and the de facto authority of the Chief of Mission within US Embassies is too limited to always ensure even tactical integration.

As a result, programs — from economic relations to development assistance, humanitarian relief, diplomatic presence, public broadcasting, migration, human rights, political-military engagement, arms control, and educational exchanges, science and technology and many others — are fractured and spread across many agencies and bureaus.

In addition, today’s turbulent world confronts us with two contrasting categories of foreign affairs activities that present different management requirements: steady state and crisis response.  Steady state operations are oriented toward conducting normal foreign relations activities not currently affected by crisis or serious conflict.  Crisis response situations are episodic and require special attention during their occurrence.  Both require close and even integrated management systems in the contemporary world but in both cases providing integrated management has been sporadic and ad hoc. The continuing occurrence of crises over the past two decades has led to an increased interest in the development of new institutional solutions, such as State’s Coordinator for Stabilization and Reconstruction (S/CRS).

Secretary Clinton’s commendable intention to manage the two Ds runs into an obvious limitation.  She is the Secretary of State but the current Department of State was not designed and is not currently equipped to manage the increasingly diverse responsibilities of the United States government in a globalized world. Nevertheless, while the Department of State continues to occupy the center of the conduct of foreign affairs community, it is too narrowly focused on traditional diplomacy and does not exercise sufficient authority or possess sufficient resources to manage the full range of global affairs effectively.  Specifically the Department of State, as presently constituted, does not encompass the necessary range of USG programs which, in fact, comprise those elements of inter-governmental concern which commonly referred to as diplomacy.  Secondly, the Secretary of State does not have the use of a robust executive management and personnel structure which would enable him or her to effectively provide strategic leadership, oversight and coordination over the conduct of foreign affairs of the United States Government.

A Next Generation State Department
Obviously Secretary Clinton’s vision fits into the concept of “Whole of Government”, the    current catchphrase for a better integrated, better-coordinated government. In pursuit of that objective, one of the changes proposed for a more effective “Whole of Government” in general and a more effective the U.S. national security system in particular is a Department of State capable of managing “Steady State” operations and of participating in “Crisis Response” situations more effectively.  To achieve these two objectives, this paper proposes the consolidation of the majority of international programs in a ‘Next Generation State Department” (a reinvented Department of State) which would be structured as a comprehensive, mission-oriented organization, have an effective executive management structure and process, and a new institutional culture based on a single system-wide personnel system combined with a comprehensive professional educational system.

This consolidation of civilian foreign affairs programs into a single department would replace the current Department of State and a plethora of other independent bureaucratic organizations. Implementation of this proposal requires either the creation of a wholly new department or the complete transformation of the current Department of State – a transformation so complete that it would be the equivalent of taking the hood ornament off an automobile and moving a new vehicle in under it.

The policy rationale for this proposal is twofold: first, that there is currently in the USG little capacity for making-trade-offs at the strategic or regional levels, and secondly that programs promoting soft power lack integration and coordination.  A through assessment of this problem of the absence of effective cross-department executive authority was made in the report “Forging a New Shield” by the Project on National Security Reform, a congressionally mandated effort that involved a wide coalition of organizations and individuals.3   Effective integration requires that “we must elevate and integrate the unique dimensions of development, diplomacy, and public diplomacy into a unified whole.”4

The organizational objective of this unified whole would be to empower a “Secretary of State” authorized to coordinate the entire international relations mechanism abroad and thus be in a position to better implement presidential policy by ensuring that the various programs marched to a single drum.  Such a Secretary would dispose of a broad enough mandate, a rich enough portfolio, and a resource base robust enough to produce an enhanced international status as well as a greater ability to hold his/her leadership position in the upper levels of U.S. governmental competition. Combining these programs into a single department means in essence the consolidation of a number of existing bureaucratic stovepipes, Bundling together related authorities and resources would provide for effective executive authority below the White House and would achieve greater unity of effort and unity of purpose among related programs.  In other words, it would give this community of disparate programs and agencies a corporate headquarters that would produce integrated strategies and drive integrated action to accomplish the USG’s priority missions. This would not in itself resolve the integration problem for the total national security system but would simplify the problem by providing effective delegated presidential authority over a significant segment of that system.

There are numerous precedents for this approach.  The Department of Defense is the oldest and most successful model, although the newer Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence are more recent efforts, although still works in progress. As the concept of “jointness” revolutionized American defense capabilities after the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, the reinvented Department of State would draw upon a combination of directive authority, procedural, human capital and cultural changes.

Creating a Department of State with this new character would not in itself result in an increase in the overall budget for foreign relations activities.  It would, however, provide the means to use whatever resources are available more effectually.  To that end, it would be necessary to coordinate the resources of the agencies and programs brought within the Department.  Giving a single Secretary authority over a comprehensive budget should decrease the ineffectual overspending or under spending that is currently characterizes diverse and autonomous programs executed without respect to broader foreign policy objectives.  In addition, the coordination of programs should enhance the synergism between complimentary programs within the consolidated department and enable it to have an appropriate voice in the international activities of other agencies through the formulation of a strategic foreign affairs policy and supporting budget.

Two other major “macro” results are envisaged for a consolidated “Next Generation State Department”. The Secretary of a “Next Generation State Department” authorized to coordinate the entire international relations mechanism abroad to implement presidential policy would have enhanced this international status and ability to exert global influence. Secondly, creating a ‘Next Generation State Department’ that consolidates related programs would also help correct the imbalance between the military and civilian elements of national power.  This imbalance is due as much to a disparity in authority as a disparity in resources.

The proposed consolidation or re-invention of the Department of State is discussed below in greater detail, focusing on four primary elements:

  1. An “Office of the Secretary” with Department wide authority, designated functions, and sufficient staff.
  2. A “family” of subordinate units ranging in status from bureaus to sub-cabinet agencies, each representing a distinct instrument: development assistance, economic relations, public diplomacy, counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics, migration and immigration, political-military engagement, etc.
  3. A coherent operational chain of command from the Secretary, through Regional Under or Assistant Secretaries to Chiefs of Mission to provide integrated management of all field operations – each level operating within its defined area under authority analogous to current “Chief of Mission” authority and leading a net-worked inter-bureau and interagency team
  4. An expanded “foreign affairs” culture fostered by a three-pronged approach: expanding the current Foreign Service of the United States to cover all personnel who pursue international careers in the Department regardless of substantive discipline; creating a comprehensive professional educational program, and instituting an extensive program of cross-functional and inter-agency assignments.

Guidelines for Consolidation
In essence, we are proposing to deconstruct State and join its component parts with bureaucratic units from across government with related missions and who also operate externally.  These activities are sometimes referred to collectively as “soft power”.5

Each of these new bureaucratic operating units — functional bureaus on steroids —  would be organized around a major foreign relations theme such as economic and trade relations, economic development, crisis response, public diplomacy and information, political-military engagement, migration and immigration, the nexus of transnational threats (terrorism, narcotics, international crime. Consolidating related substantive bureaucratic entities now spread around distinct departments and agencies would form each. These units would be headed at an appropriate level, probably Assistant Secretary although some such as economic development might be at the Under or even Deputy Secretary level, and would function as substantive mission focused “agencies” responsible for policy development in their areas of competence as well as capability providers to the operational chain of command.

The objective is an omnibus or big tent type of department; one with a greater range of substantive programs than, for instance, the Department of Defense but less than the Department of Homeland Security.  Constructing this department will require thoughtful analysis and lengthy negotiations about who to include and who to leave out.  The following general guidelines for the selection of existing bureaucratic entities and programs to be moved are proposed:

  1. Programs and agencies whose mission is clearly in the conduct of foreign affairs would be fully integrated. This will include, obviously, all the present activities of the Department of State, USAID, and agencies such as USTR and OPIC, as well as any other entities or programs necessary for an institutional capacity for managing crisis responses both for steady state periods and to stand up special units to deploy for crisis response operations.
  2. Transferred and also fully integrated would be programs not presently constituting separate agencies but are reasonably self-contained foreign affairs programs or services of departments, such as the Agriculture and Commercial Foreign Services from the Department of Agriculture and Commerce and their supporting offices, ICITAP from Justice, and elements of the Office of the Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy (the infamous “Little State department”).
  3. A third component would be foreign relations programs, which are conducted by departments and agencies as part of their core missions but not identified as freestanding programs. These programs would not be transferred but would be integrated as partners through representation in the new structure of State as a “National Team”.  Examples might be the Legal Attaché Program of the FBI and foreign outreach programs of the Center for Disease Control.

The most obvious and pressing area for consolidation, currently under active consideration in Washington, is that of economic development.  At the moment, five institutions—the Department of Defense, State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, or MCC, and the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, manage the bulk of foreign assistance, but without the benefit of a clear division of labor based on comparative advantage. A number recent studies and reports have concluded that consolidation is desirable.

For example the HELP Commission Report6 core conclusion is the need to obtain a more integrated approach to our government’s development assistance. As this study points out, for decades America has applied piecemeal fixes to complex development challenges, often through multiple U.S. Government agencies. However for real effectiveness, trade, investment, political engagement, and public diplomacy must complement our assistance. Authority and accountability should not be scattered across the government. Therefore it is necessary to reorganize all U.S. international affairs functions. The HELP Commission strongly argued that development should be elevated to equal status with defense and diplomacy, requiring dramatic changes to the existing structure.  Although the Commission took varying views on what form that structure should take, including that of a new stand-alone Department of Development, the majority of Commissioners opted for the merger of all development agencies into the Department of State so that the Secretary of State manages all aspects of U.S foreign policy and foreign assistance. However that merger would be predicated on the assumption that in this new consolidated Department of State development should be elevated to equal status with defense and diplomacy and those dramatic changes to the existing structure would make that equivalence clear. Annex A provides some guidelines to the proposed consolidation.

Another aspect of this question is the need for a more effective structure for State to partner effectively with DoD in managing crisis response, given the relationship between economic development and crisis response or post-conflict reconstruction. There is an obvious operational continuum ranging from class aid projects to contemporary crisis response and post conflict reconstruction.  The skill sets are the same to a remarkable degree as are the personnel involved as USAID’s offices of Civilian Response, Democracy and Governance, Foreign Disaster Assistance, Food for Peace, and OFDA and their recent roles in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the East Asia tsunami amply demonstrate.
Therefore it is proposed that the present USAID and Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) recently created and located in the Department of State, be consolidated with programs and organizations such as Millennium Challenge into a “Development and Crisis Response Organization” headed by a Deputy or Under Secretary of State for Development and Crisis Response.

A number of recent studies and reports support this approach. For instance, a December 20008 by the National Defense University “suggests that USAID should be the operational agency charged with training and equipping civilians for complex missions. This will require doubling its personnel strength and endowing it with new authorities akin to those associated in the past with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and new funding to reimburse other agencies that provide personnel for overseas deployment. USAID also will need to undergo a significant cultural change. To promote that change, and to reflect its new mission, USAID might be renamed the Agency for Development and Reconstruction (USADR). The reconstituted USAID/USADR might have two basic divisions, one for each major function.”7

Another notional example of the operating units being proposed might be an “Agency for Trans-National Security”, composed of (currently organizational location in parentheses):

  • Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism (State)
  • Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (State)
  • Bureau of Diplomatic Security (State)
  • International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (Justice)
  • Office of Foreign Assets Control (some elements, Treasury)
  • International Programs and Activities, DEA (elements of DEA)

Other departments and agencies would participate in the new Department in both the operating units and the operational management or chain of command system by a number of means.  A formal and extensive personnel exchange system, modeled on the present State-DOD exchange agreement should be concluded with a wide range of departments. Recruitment for positions, including the most senior, would be government wide. In particular, strong on-site representation from the US Special Operations Command and the Director of National Intelligence will be desired. Staff positions at all levels should be open to recruiting from across the national security system (and visa versa).  Extensive formal networking and greater us of team organization are major themes of the PNSR program and will contribute to a more collegial relationship between ‘DIR” and other departments.

The Organizational Structure
Building on these basic concepts, the organizational structure would consist of five basic bureaucratic building blocks:

1) An empowered, executive Secretary of State directly supervising a defined      number of operating units and their programs.
2) An empowered Secretary of State with specifically defined authority to coordinate foreign affairs operations for related foreign affairs activities of agencies and departments not consolidated with the new State, e.g. Treasury, Justice, Agriculture, Commerce.
3) A coherent chain of operational command from the Secretary, through Regional Under/Assistant Secretaries, and one Under/Assistant Secretary for Multilateral Relations, to Chiefs of Mission.
4) A “community” of substantive units or bureaus, including some sub-Cabinet level agencies, each mission oriented towards a specific aspect of foreign relations, including an institutional crisis response capability.
5) A revamped, expanded, and unitary “foreign affairs” or “diplomatic” personnel system designed to foster an expansive, holistic foreign affairs culture.

A. The Office of the Secretary
The Office of the Secretary is the center of the new Department of State and would span all of the U.S. Government’s international affairs functions. The Secretary would be the primary executive official responsible for managing the full range of programs assigned to the department.  This is in fact a traditional responsibility of Secretaries of State, the “CEO” function, but one often shortchanged or ignored by a preoccupation with the roles of presidential advisor and chief diplomat. The proposed consolidated department, because of the range and complexity of responsibilities will, however, require active management
To cope with this expanded executive role, the Secretary would be supported by a principal Deputy Secretary but both will need a greatly expanded, formalized, and adequately staffed “Office of the Secretary” to provide overall policy supervision, oversight and coordination of implementation programs and budgets of the substantive units, and integration with national policy.

This formally established staff would include at a minimum system wide functions such as:

  • Policy Planning Staff
  • Strategic Budget Staff
  • General Counsel/Legal Advisor
  • Comptroller and Central Budget Office
  • Bureau of Intelligence & Research
  • Central Personnel Department (to include system wide training and educational responsibilities).

Most of these functions already exist in the current Department of State but in the proposed Next Generation Department would obviously have to expand in scope and probably staff. Hopefully the Policy Planning Staff could be reconstituted as a true in-house think tank. However a strategic budget staff would be an innovation.

The Budget Office located in the Office of the Secretary would be responsible for a unified planning, budgeting, and evaluation system that would allow for integrated, long-range planning. Assigning these responsibilities implies a robust office. The head of this office would have to be formally established as the Department’s Chief Financial Officer, delegated to exercise full Department-wide authority of the Secretary’s authorities and the responsibilities delineated in the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990.  This office would responsible for the formulation, analysis, and presentation of the consolidated State submitted to OMB and the Congress. It would also:

  • Provide analytical support and recommendations to the Secretary on budget, performance, and program policy issues. The office would maintain active communication with OMB and the Congress.
  • Play a lead role in analyzing Congressional budget actions, such as hearings and authorizing and appropriations legislation, and also provide guidance and technical assistance to State operating divisions, reviews and analyze policy proposals, promote program integrity and other management priorities.

Thought might also be given to creating a senior level advisory board, much like the military Chiefs of Staff, responsible to the Secretary and comprised of the heads of major substantive units or sub-departments.

B. Chain of Operational Command
Again to quote the CSIS report on smart power, there is a need to reorganize and re-equip the Executive Branch to implement multi-faceted tasks such as economic development, contingency planning and post-conflict reconstruction as the civilian agencies as currently constituted lack the resources and expertise to undertake these tasks (resulting in recourse to the military services by default if not by Presidential decision).  Also, civilian agencies, apart from USAID, lack regional operational capabilities. In addition, the current structure lacks capability to implement global U.S. national security policy in a regional context, except by the DoD with its geographic military commands.

The Hart-Rudman Commission (U.S. Commission on National Security/21st. Century) suggested that the State Department be reorganized by creating five under secretaries, with responsibility for overseeing the regions of Africa, Asia, Europe, Inter-America, and Near East/South Asia, and redefining the responsibilities of the under secretary for global affairs; If a valid concept for the current State Department with its limited scope and operational capabilities, it would be even more so for the proposed consolidated department.

The new Department of State, like the existing organization, must somehow square the circle of apparently conflicting substantive perspectives: that of the geographic bureaus representing the fundamental nation-state organization of the international community, and that of the functional bureaus representing the global character of many substantive subjects.  To manage this matrix, it is proposed that the new State be organized along the principals already existing in “Country Teams”, a relatively flat organization composed of substantive bureaucratic units, each responsible for a relevant range of disciplines (e.g. political, economic, administrative, security). These would be staffed by State’s own personnel system as well as from other departments and agencies (e.g. Treasury, intelligence, DoD, Agriculture.

Central to this approach is to adapt the existing “Chief of Mission” authority, which exists in statute as well as by specific Presidential designation, to the proposed responsibilities of four levels of officials in the new State; the Secretary of State, Regional Assistant Secretaries (“Regional Managers”), existing Chiefs of Mission ((Ambassadors), and specially designated “Chiefs of Mission” for crises and special challenges. (Ambassador Holbrook and General Gratian are current examples of specially designated “COMs”).

At the top of this structure will be the Secretary fulfilling the traditional role of the manager – ‘CEO” – of the nation’s diplomatic system.  The Secretary’s management responsibility will be delegated as appropriate down to a group of “Regional Directors”, and thence in turn down to “Chiefs of Mission” for country and problem specific management.

  1. The Secretary of State: The Secretary will obviously continue to exercise executive authority over those programs contained within the Department of State. Contained within the Office of the Secretary will be capability for strategic planning and strategic budgeting. Both of these authorities should include coordination responsibility for related civilian engagement programs of other    department and agencies.
  2. Regional Assistant Secretaries: These officials will be responsible for supervising, integrating and coordinating, with a modified version of COM authority, all USG civilian engagement activities in their assigned geographical region. In essence, they will be “regional directors” or “regional Chiefs of Mission”. Each Regional Assistant Secretary will have a dedicated executive staff to include appropriate Deputies and desk officers, but no “functional” staff such as economic, pol-mil or public diplomacy offices. Serving as ‘Regional Directors”, these officials will supervise and coordinate teams of designated officials from the relevant functional entities of the Department and other departments and agencies. These teams, composed of officials based in Washington but not physically located in the office spaces of the Regional Assistant Secretary will operate in much the same manner as Country Teams. Just as Embassy Country Teams prepare Mission Performance Plans, these regional teams will prepare Regional Performance Plans.
  3. Multilateral Affairs Manager:  The Assistant Secretary for International Organizations should be retitled the Assistant Secretary for Multilateral Affairs with an expanded bureau responsible for facilitating the participation of the USG in international organizations in particular and multilateral affairs in general.  This reinvented bureau would provide directly manage its traditional responsibilities for formal international organizations such as the UN but in addition serve as the central coordinating office for other bureaus and departments with multilateral responsibilities and interests.
  4. Chiefs of Mission/Ambassadors: Existing Chiefs of Mission (Ambassadors) have several notable characteristics.  They are the only USG officials with standing inter-agency executive authority, based on statute as well as specific Presidential designation. They are also, generally, the most senior USG official occupied full-time on the portfolio of problems and programs associated with their country of assignment. However they are also viewed and operate essentially as field managers and operatives. Utilizing modern communication technology, it is proposed that both organizational and geographic distinction between headquarters and field be significantly diminished, if not eliminated, and that Ambassadors serving as Chiefs of Mission be tasked with serving as their own Country Directors, with participating in headquarters activities as much as they act as field directors. In an unofficial and informal manner, this approach has often been practiced in the past, and no doubt, is being practiced by some ambassadors today.  However it is being proposed here that this occasional practice be made the standard operational mode of the new Department.8

B. Chiefs of Mission/Special:  In addition to the standing executive structure of Regional Assistant Secretaries and country specific Chiefs of Mission, the authority to appoint COMs should be extended to include subject specific appointments in the case of emergencies (such as a tsunami), crises (a genocide or a post conflict reconstruction project), a “special situation” (such as the Afghanistan-Pakistan situation), or in countries where no U. S.  Mission exists.

At this point it might be useful to refer to the existing COM authority as outlined in presidential letters and in (22 USC 3927, Title 22, Chapter 52, Subchapter II, Section 3927):

      (a) “Under the direction of the President, the chief of mission to a foreign country –

(1) shall have full responsibility for the direction, coordination, and supervision of all Government executive branch employees in that country (except for Voice of America correspondents on official assignment and employees under the command of a United States area military commander); and

(2) shall keep fully and currently informed with respect to all activities and operations of the Government within that country, and shall insure that all Government executive branch employees in that country (except for Voice of America correspondents on official assignment and employees under the command of a United States area military commander) comply fully with all applicable directives of the chief of mission.

A formal delegation of similar authority to the appropriate management levels, the Secretary and the Regional Assistant Secretaries, of the State should be provided.  With this authority, the State could provide for integrated management and direction of all USG civilian and political-military international operations.  Through this central “command” structure in State, policy and resources could be integrated and coordinated at the policy level and then flow down to Country Teams, rather than going directly through discrete bureaucratic and authority stovepipes, thereby alleviating if not eliminating the current organizational competition at the country level

The Regional Assistant Secretaries would not exercise authority (or command) over combatant commanders or their assigned forces in combat operations or other Title 10 missions assigned by the National Command Authority, the same limitation that Ambassadors/Chiefs of Mission have with respect to their country of assignment. However while the combatant commands would continue to prepare and review war plans through the existing military chain of command, the Regional Assistant Secretaries would provide assistance in developing Phase IV of their war plans and in developing the theater security cooperation plans of the combatant commanders. Thus, the Regional Assistant Secretaries would fulfill the long expressed desired of the Department of Defense for an effective counterpart to their geographic commanders.  Having the close relationship between the relevant combatant commander and Regional Assistant Secretaries would ensure a strong relationship between peacetime military engagement and political, economic, and development policies in the regions.

With respect to Country Teams or embassies, the notion is that they would be seen as part of the main structure of the State Department, and seen as embedded within the territorial units of State despite being physically separated. That might have the consequence of reducing manpower within these territorial units  as well as in the resident embassies, by more easily permitting the temporary deployment of headquarters personnel (from the functional as well as the regional units) as needed. The UK, Germany and Canada have introduced approaches of this kind.
In sum, the whole Department would be organized as a multi-agency “National Team” where policy and resource integration would take place at three formally designated  levels (in addition to informal coordination at all levels): at the Secretarial or Cabinet level, at the Regional Assistant Secretary level, and at the Country Team level plus in special teams or missions for emergencies.  It would be an attempt, at a higher level and much more ambitious, to duplicate the success of the DoD’s joint combatant commands by creating a joint “Department of Foreign Affairs”.

A Unified Diplomatic Service of the United States of America: A Comprehensive Personnel System9
An expanded and consolidated New Generation State Department needs a more unified personnel system. The desired institutional culture of the major foreign affairs agency needs to be less divided by functional affiliation (FS/GS, conal identification, AID, FCS, FAS, etc) and internal and personal identity politics and more focused on a broader community of commonly shared professional formation.

The most recent governing personnel legislation for State is the Foreign Service Act of 1980, before the invention of the Internet. The Foreign Service Act of 1980 reflects the era in which it was enacted and must now be replaced as we adjust to new global and technological realities.  Retaining the current rank-in-person, competitive promotion system currently in operation in the Foreign Service (and in the military services), an expanded and unified “Diplomatic Service Personnel System” would subject all of the current Department of State’s career personnel, as well as relevant designated components of other Agencies and Departments, to the same defined standards (appropriate to one’s service category and rank) for entry, tenure, rotation of assignments, evaluation, and promotion within a broad-gage, 21st century Diplomatic Service infrastructure.  Conditions for the new personnel system would include but not be limited to the following:

  • Excepted Service Rank-in-Person status for all career officer and support staff personnel (like the military services). All officers would hold Presidential Commissions.  The Secretary would commission staff.
  • A common selection-in process, tailored by category, for all Diplomatic Service employees, that is based on well-defined standards of maximum age (40), relevant college studies, knowledge, experience, and personal qualities needed for the career.
  • A common evaluation process for all officer level personnel and similar common but appropriate processes for all technical and/or support personnel.
  • Successful participation in a comprehensive professional education program beginning upon entry and continuing to – and required for – senior rank.
  • Commitment by all Headquarters-oriented career officer personnel to serve at least one tour overseas within the first five years of selection into the Diplomatic Service.
  • Demonstrated effectiveness in operations, policy formulation and execution, human capital and program/project management for any officer aspiring to executive positions and leadership.

“The New Generation State Department will require a professionally educated and trained staff for the kind of service and corporate culture and leadership the country needs in the future. In the first half of the 21st century, change will be the only constant and the velocity of change will only increase as demographic and generational shifts, together with the longer-term impacts of globalization and the information revolution make themselves felt worldwide.  Hence, managing change in a world of highly diverse and often competing nation state interests will be central to smart power-driven American diplomacy (broadly defined) as it seeks to promote and ensure our own national interests in an ever more complex and volatile international environment.”

Building on a defined common core of professional education upon entry, this diplomatic “schoolhouse” would encourage all employees to further develop through a combination of assignments (including on the Hill, in other agencies, in think tanks and universities) multifaceted and multifunctional knowledge, capabilities and experience.  Officers, in particular, would be expected to integrate multifaceted policy and strategic resource management expertise with an ongoing responsibility for staying abreast of new technology and methodologies that can support them both.  In short, a new Diplomatic Service personnel system would include strong incentives and requirements for continuing education and professional updating.

The “Foreign Affairs Budget For the Future” produced by the American Academy of Diplomacy and current programs of expanded recruitment and projections for the immediate future to include a dedicated training float of officers, provides an opportunity not to be missed to move towards introducing into the Department of State a serious professional education program.  A purposeful program of professional education of this kind would require immersion in serious educational programs at several points in every officer level employee’s career – at least upon entry, upon mid-level maturation, and at the senior leadership level.

  • The first step in the right direction would be to develop a well-defined, mandatory professional education entry course for State Department and other relevant foreign affairs officers, with a voluntary option that also welcomes other non-officer level personnel in the coming decades.
  • Later, towards the midcareer point, a Masters in Diplomatic Studies (MDS) or equivalent graduate program should be provided.
  • A third leg of the professional education triad would be a senior level program, to include managerial subjects as well as more traditional substantive content, designed to equip officers to lead and manage.
  • Extensive language training, area studies, and other relevant diplomatic tradecraft would supplement this professional educational triad.

In order to ensure that the American diplomatic service of the moves toward a corporate culture characterized by organic unity, commitment, service and cooperative collegiality The George Shultz Center needs to become the George Shultz Center for Diplomacy, Leadership and Management.  In addition to carrying on with needed short-term training responsibilities, the Shultz Center should develop a close partnership with local universities such George Washington University, Georgetown University or American University, and seek out other relationships further afield, as partners in the development of an intellectually challenging professional program.

The Three D approach broached by Secretary Clinton and the supporting thesis of a consolidated Department of State are the culmination of a great deal of study and discussion which has been underway for years. There are numerous other serious studies apart from those mentioned in this article. A recent article in American Diplomacy, “Foreign Affairs for the 21st Century” by William P. Kiehl, for instance makes the case for a significant reform or reorganization of the nation’s foreign affairs establishment. In particular, over the past few years, the Project on National Security Reform, in addition to conducting an assessment of the problems currently afflicting the national security structure, produced a series of broad recommendations for improving the ability of this system to integrate national power in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century.  PNSR presented these in its report “Forging a New Shield”. One of the PNSR recommendations is to “improve the international relations of the United States” by “transforming the Department of State by consolidating within it all functions now assigned to other departments and agencies that fall within the competencies of the Department of State.”10

The PNSR study reflects the view of many since the end of the Cold War that a major restructuring of the organization and operating processes of the United States Government in the national security arena is needed to reflect the very different international environment of multi-agency and multi-subject challenges we now face. The traditional organization of freestanding departments and agencies of the Federal Government needs to be modified to deal with a world that cannot be contained within stovepiped perspectives.  The arrival of a new Administration devoted to change in how the business of the Republic is conducted and the presence of a government experienced and politically savvy Secretary of State offers an opportunity to make the sort of organization changes in the bureaucracy which are so difficult to achieve.  The old question therefore poses itself once again, if change is necessary, if not now, then when?End.


1. A term borrowed from “Putting ‘Smart Power’ to Work: An Action Agenda for the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress,” Center for US Global Engagement, March 2009.
2. George L. Argyros, Marc Grossman, Felix G. Rohatyn, and Anne Witkowsky. The Embassy of the Future, Washington, D.C.: CSIS Press, 2007.
3. “Forging a New Shield”, Project on National Security Reform, Washington, DC, November 2008.
4. “CSIS Commission on Smart Power”, Center for Strategic & International Studies, Washington, DC.
5. Soft power” generally refers to the civilian programs of national power, which is combined with “hard” or military power to create “smart power”.
6. “The HELP Commission Report on Foreign Assistance Reform”, December 7, 2007.
7. Civilian Surge: Key to complex Operations”, edited Hans Binnendijk and Patrick M. Cronin, Center for Technology and National Security Policy, NDU December 2008.
8.  This approach to the role of ambassadors was described in “The 21st Century Ambassador”, Kishan S. Rana, Diplo Foundation, 2004.
9.  The following brief discussion of a new unified career diplomatic service is drawn from an unpublished paper by Ms. Stephanie Kinney, Senior Foreign Service Officer (ret).
10. “Forging a New Shield”, Project on National Security Reform, November 2008.




Ed Marks
Ed Marks

Ed Marks served more than 40 years in the U. S. Foreign Service, including an assignment as ambassador to Guinea-Bissau. He graduated from Michigan and Oklahoma universities and attended the National War College. Retiring in 1995, he subsequently served on detail to the U. S. Pacific Command. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Joint Forces Staff College and a member of the American Diplomacy board.


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