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Department Appointments Politicized

The process of appointment of principal officers in the Department of State and ambassadors became increasingly politicized during the Reagan Administration, with some appointments causing controversy. Reagan was forced to withdraw the nomination of Ernest Lefever as Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs when a majority on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee concluded that he was not an advocate for human rights and rejected his nomination.

The Foreign Service Act of 1980 stipulated that the President should “normally” appoint Foreign Service officers, not political supporters, as ambassadors. Nonetheless, during his first term Reagan proposed nearly as many political as Foreign Service ambassadors. The American Foreign Service Association charged in 1981 that this record made “a mockery of the careful selection and long and varied experience which professional career officers bring to senior assignments within the service.” Although Shultz reversed the trend, the number of non-career ambassadors was higher under Reagan than under any President since Herbert Hoover. Although Reagan made some distinguished appointments from outside the Foreign Service—such as Arthur Burns in Bonn—his critics pointed to ambassadors of lesser distinction. Spiers publicly complained in 1987 that such appointments demonstrated “a lack of respect” that would “have a corrosive effect on the career service.”