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From the National Archives: The Value of Consular Work, 1947
by David A. Langbart


Since creation of the American Foreign Service under the Rogers Act in 1924 by combining the separate Diplomatic Service and Consular Service, a perennial issue has been the value of consular work. Since unification, the consular aspect of the Foreign Service, which includes, among other things, adjudicating visas, issuing passports, promoting trade, and assisting American citizens overseas, has largely been considered secondary to political, economic, and other “substantive” activities. Those who aimed to make their mark within the Foreign Service shied away from consular work.

In 1947, Albert Clattenberg, Jr., prepared a memorandum that attempted to “overcome the impression that consular work… in the Foreign Service and in the Department is relatively unimportant [and that it] … constitutes a career dead end.” Prepared at the request of Hamilton Robinson, director of the Office of Controls, for delivery to Assistant Secretary of State for Administration John Peurifoy, Clattenberg sent a copy to Charles E. (“Chip”) Bohlen, then serving as Counselor of the Department.1

Clattenberg’s cover memorandum to Bohlen read, in part:

The activities referred to are of the character which gives John Q. Public, whether in this country or any other country of the world, his decisive impression of the country whose officers he is dealing with and of the application of the professed ideals of that country in actual practice.

I have long been convinced that in an atmosphere in which our slightest defects are the subject of all too willing an attack by others, the consular activities of our posts abroad are every bit as important as the political, economic and cultural activities whereby we seek to influence the world toward peace and mutual understanding. Weakness in any one link of the chain threatens the effectiveness of each of the others. The present disposition to underestimate the importance of services to the individual through the Department and the Foreign Service and to understaff and undercompensate these important services threatens to constitute such a weak link.

… I feel it my duty at this time to send you this memorandum because I feel that those in charge of the destinies of the Department should be as concerned for the high level of services rendered to the individual and the proper equipment of the Department and the Service for the purpose as they are for any other of our principal functions in carrying on the foreign relations of this country.2

At the time he wrote the memorandum, Clattenberg was working in the Division of Protective Services. He was appointed to the Foreign Service in 1929 and had served at Athens, Patras, Batavia, and Hamburg performing both consular and diplomatic functions. During World War II, he was assistant chief of the Special Division and its successor the Special War Problems Division. After the war he became assistant chief and then chief of the Special Projects Division. Subsequently, Clattenberg served overseas at Lisbon, Montreal, Monaco and Nice, and in the Department as deputy director of the Visa Office.

Given that the issue persists to this day, it seems clear that the memorandum had little effect. Nonetheless, almost 70 years later it remains a valuable statement of the importance and worth of the consular work of the Foreign Service.



September 30, 1947

The Problem:

To overcome the impression that consular work (i.e. passports and citizenship, immigration and visa, protection, veterans, invoices, estates, etc.) in the Foreign Service and in the Department is relatively unimportant and particularly that in the career sense in the Foreign Service it constitutes a dead end.

Factors to be considered:

1. A recent item in the Foreign Service Journal pointed out that approximately one-eighth of the officers promoted from one of the higher grades in the Foreign Service had been engaged in consular work. All the other promotees had specialized in political or economic work or had had recent and recurring assignments in the Department in those fields.

2. Geographic and economic officers systematically follow the work of the Foreign Service officers operating in their field and ensure prompt recognition of work meeting their favor. Area officers in FP4 similarly follow the work of field officers (mostly staff or reserve) engaged in purely administrative functions. Responsibility for following up and obtaining recognition of the work of officers in the consular field is not specifically assigned.

3. A tendency appears to consider that consular work requires an inferior type of officer and performance, that it is less important to the country and the Department than political or economic work. Such tendency appears in the habitual short-staffing of Departmental divisions backstopping the work and in habitual udergrading of responsible positions in those divisions where imagination and breadth of vision are necessary, so that persons of adequate professional or technical attainments either cannot be recruited for the positions or cannot afford to remain in them after being developed through a proper promotion policy. The tendency also appears in the assumption found frequently in papers and articles referring to the Foreign Service that a Foreign Service Staff Officer need not be as highly developed educationally or technically as a Foreign Service or Foreign Service Reserve officer and that the logical place for such staff personnel is in consular work, thus freeing the “better” officers for “higher” tasks. Reference to consular activities as “Kitchen Police” work are not unknown.

4. Consular work requires the following attributes if it is to be carried on successfully:

(a). A detailed knowledge of conditions in the area from economic, political and sociological viewpoints.

(b). A detailed knowledge of the structure and operation of the local and United States Governments both.

(c). A detailed knowledge of complicated laws and regulations of the United States and the local government affecting immigration, emigration, nationality, establishment and residence, foreign labor, exportation and importation of commodities, form and manner of execution of legal documents, taking of depositions, conservation and administration of estates, manner of establishing educational qualifications of students, teachers or professional persons, manner of establishing compliance with marriage laws, etc., etc.

(d). Resourcefulness and commonsense in advising persons how to comply with unfamiliar laws and regulations.

(e). Sympathy and understanding for the problems of individuals without permitting undue interruption of workflow.

(f). Friendly acquaintance with local officials on the working level in all the administrative fields related to consular work such as police, customs, immigration, quarantine, public health, rationing, labor, finance, taxation, etc.

(g). Knowledge of hotels, boarding houses, hospitals, doctors, lawyers, shippers of produce to U.S., travel agencies, steamship agencies, banks, and other purveyors of necessary services, in relation to each of the many technical fields of consular operations.

(h). A sixth sense to detect fraud.

(i). Ability to meet emergency cooly [sic] and intelligently, morning, noon, or night.

5. Consular services are the principal point of contact between the average American citizen and the Department and the Foreign Service. The speed and efficiency of action taken, the attitude and efficiency of the individual officers or employees he encounters are decisive in forming his impression of what the Department and the Foreign Service are accomplishing in the fields of political and economic activity in which he himself is unlikely to have first-hand knowledge.

These services are likewise the principal point of contact between the average resident of a foreign country and the United States Government. On his radio and even sometimes in his newspaper or in books he reads he hears of our devotion to efficiency, to democratic principles and procedures, to sympathetic understanding among nations and peoples. It is only natural that he judge our professions by the practice as he sees it when he and his neighbors call at our offices abroad to seek information or services affecting their personal interests.

The foregoing considerations make prompt, sympathetic and efficient handling of consular services essential at all times in the interest of public support of the Department of State and the Foreign Service in the United States and in the interest of successful relations between the American and foreign peoples. At the present time, however, a very crucial situation exists in that there is a world-wide concerted effort to defeat the objectives of the United States Government in seeking the firm establishment of peace among nations, the natural democratic growth of all peoples within the framework of their own national institutions, and mutual understanding among all peoples. The objectives of this campaign are (1) to undermine the confidence of the American people in the Department of State and its Foreign Service, (2) to misrepresent the United States in every way possible and most particularly by seeking to establish a discrepancy between its professed ideals and objectives and its simple every-day actions affecting the lives of individuals, (3) to block in any way possible activities of the Department and the Foreign Service which seem likely to be effective in displaying a consonance between American ideals and American practice.

In the exceptional prevailing circumstances, the importance of full, faithful, efficient and impartial service to each individual up to the full extent to which he may be entitled in law, equity and announced principles of democratic behavior, is a thousand-fold multiplied.

6. Whether or not the defense pleaded in the Bauer case is full and true is immaterial. It is at least logical. Bauer was a naturalized American of German birth. He fell for the siren call of Dr. Schacht, sold his dollar savings for Rueckwanderer marks5 and returned to Germany. He found he had been misled, that his marks were nearly worthless, went to the Consulate, confessed his error and begged for aid in getting a steamship ticket back to the United States. Such cases were a dime a dozen in those days and the answer, based strictly on law and regulation, was standard. No help from government funds because the applicant was naturalized, had no funds in the United States, [and] had most of his ties in Germany. No help in using his marks to buy a steamship ticket because there was no procedure for doing so. But the Abwehr6 of the German Army was ready to step in with assistance and bought Bauer his ticket a little later in return for his promise of services. He did not act on that promise and only the capture of the Abwehr records served to uncover it.

The German Abwehr may not be competing for the loyalty of the American abroad today. But other more active and insidious agencies are competing in the field. The performance of consular services in a fully competent and democratic manner is the best means of checkmating them and of uncovering their stratagems. Only the best and keenest of brains, the fiercest and most contagious sort of loyalty to American ideals can be successful in this struggle. Anything less will only provide the opponent more fuel for his campaign.


1.  That Foreign Service Inspectors be instructed:
(1) to emphasize in connection with their inspections the value and importance of consular services to the Government, Department and Foreign Service; (2) to note unfavorably instances where the organization and management of offices is such as to reflect a contrary viewpoint.

2. That demonstrated ability to render consular services in an outstanding manner be made a sine qua non for advancement in the Foreign Service except for individuals whose career is specifically limited to some technical specialty.

3. That Staff and Reserve Officers in the Foreign Service who show outstanding ability in rendering consular services consistently be commended and consistently be rewarded by promotion to grades compatible with their technical qualifications.

4. That Foreign Service Inspectors be encouraged to consult Divisions responsible in the Department for consular work with a view to ascertaining before making the inspections the opinion held of the quality of work currently being done at the offices to be inspected.

5. So long as comment from sources within the Department is accepted as material for determining the relative efficiency of field employees, that each Division concerned evolve adequate means of evaluating the work done by officers in activities under its jurisdiction.

6. That the Divisions responsible for backstopping consular work be kept constantly fully staffed and graded to permit efficient and effective operation. In moderate degree geographic specialization among employees performing functional operations might possibly result in higher job classifications for them.

7. That Foreign Service Form 240, Summary of Business, be revised adequately to reflect the number and kind of public contacts made at field offices in the conduct of consular services, including especially the myriad callers and inquiries in the field of whom no note is presently taken in most offices.

8. That Mr. Strom of FSP or some other officer with views on the subject be commissioned to write a statement of the problem for the Foreign Service Journal to be used as an introduction for an essay competition similar to the successful one held some time prior to the drafting of the 1946 Foreign Service Act, the competition to be open to all officers and employees in the Foreign Service, in the Department, and to any American citizen having frequent contact with the consular sections of Foreign Service posts.



1. The Office of Controls consisted of the Passport Division, the Visa Division, the Division of Protective Services, the Division of Foreign Activity Correlation, and the Munitions Division.2. Clattenberg to Counselor of the Department Charles E. Bohlen, memorandum, October 1, 1947, file 120.3/10-147, 1945-49 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

3. Clattenberg memorandum, September 30, 1947, attached to Clattenberg to Bohlen, memorandum, October 1, 1947, file 120.3/10-147, 1945-49 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

4. The Division of Foreign Service Personnel.

5. Special German marks sold to U.S. residents of German descent to earn dollars in the United States. For more detail, see: Norman J.W. Goda, “Banking on Hitler: Chase National Bank and the Reuckwanderer Mark Scheme, 1936-1941, “ in U.S. INTELLIGECNE AND THE NAZIS, Richard Breitman, Norman J.W. Goda, Timothy Naftali, & Robert Wolfe, eds.

6. German military intelligence.


David A. Langbart is an archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives. The opinions expressed in the introduction are those of the author and do not reflect those of any agency of the U.S. Government. The author thanks former Foreign Service Officer Charles V. Hawley for his assistance.


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