Modernization of the Department

The experience of modern warfare demonstrated that the Department of State would have to undergo major changes. As early as 1915, in response to the wartime pressures on the Diplomatic and Consular Services, Congress passed the Stone-Flood Act, which permitted the appointment of certain diplomatic and consular officers to functional positions rather than to specific posts in the field. Prior to this, consular officers who wanted to transfer to the Diplomatic Service had to take the examinations, and oral examiners who might want to keep diplomacy the preserve of men from the “right schools” or “right families” could reject the candidates, despite their experience. In addition to assignment after examination or presidential appointment, the 1915 law permitted reassignment by administrative transfer.

But even after the war, the public believed that the modernization of American diplomatic practice was still far from complete. In January 1920, Secretary of State Robert Lansing, writing to a sympathetic Congressman, John Jacob Rogers of Massachusetts, described the problem: “The machinery of government provided for dealing with our foreign relations is in need of complete repair and reorganization. As adequate as it may have been when the old order prevailed and the affairs of the world were free from the present perplexities it has ceased to be responsive to present needs.” Three categories of reform were required to enable the Department to function effectively under the changed conditions of the postwar period:

  • (I) The foreign services had to be fully professionalized and democratized;
  • (II) The structure of the Department had to be modernized to deal effectively with a whole range of new policy initiatives; and
  • (III) Relations between the Department and other participants in the foreign policy process had to be clarified and conducted in a new institutional context.