Saturday, April 13, 2013

Presidents are breaking the U.S. Foreign Service

Here is a great piece in the Washington Post, Presidents are breaking the U.S. Foreign Service, authored by AFSA President Susan Johnson, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and American Academy of Diplomacy President Ronald E. Neumann, and AAD Board Chairman and former U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas R. Pickering.

They write:

"What is wrong at State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, our embassies and other agencies that together are the vehicles for American diplomacy? What accounts for the Foreign Service being marginalized?

The most visible factor is the overwhelming — and growing — presence of political appointees in mid-level and top leadership positions at the State Department. For all their merit, political appointees are short-term officials, subject to partisan, ­personality-specific pressures. They do not notably contribute to the institution’s longer-term vitality, and their ascension creates a system inherently incapable of providing expert, nonpartisan foreign policy advice.

When the bulk of its leadership positions are held by transient appointees, the Foreign Service is undermined. This situation spawns opportunism and political correctness, weakens esprit de corps within the service and emaciates institutional memory.

Diplomatic capacity needs professional, institutional leadership. A career service must nurture a deep bench of high-quality professional diplomats. But the trend has been in the opposite direction. Since 1975, the number of top leadership positions at the State Department, defined as deputy secretaries, undersecretaries and assistant secretaries, has increased from 18 to 33. The share filled by career Foreign Service officers has fallen from 61 percent in 1975 to 24 percent in 2012. Only five of the 35 special envoys, representatives, advisers and coordinators appointed during President Obama’s first term were Foreign Service officers."

You can read the whole piece here.

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