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Landmark Departmental Reform

In 1980, Congress passed the landmark Foreign Service Act, the first new legislation on the service since 1946, designed to address problems both at home and overseas. The act was the culmination of reform initiated by Vance and Deputy Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher and implemented by Under Secretary of State for Management Benjamin Read.

The act created a Senior Foreign Service (SFS) to address a real problem—there were too many senior officers and not enough senior posts. Now, the number of senior personnel would be related to the number of available jobs. Those who did not pass the close scrutiny and rigorous standards for the SFS would be assured a 20-year career and a pension. Foreign Service pay was raised and overseas allowances and spousal rights were liberalized. The Foreign Service Reserve System ended with the acknowledgement that it that had not worked as planned, and specialists who had been part of the “Wristonization” experiment of the 1950s were transferred back into the Civil Service. The act created a Foreign Service of 6,850 people and a domestic work force of 3,800 Civil Servants, for a total of about 10,650 employees.

The Foreign Service Act encouraged qualities in the Foreign Service that were essential to the modern practice of diplomacy. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David D. Newsom summarized these qualities in 1978: “An understanding of our own nation; a balanced sensitivity to other societies and peoples; a firm grasp of the subject matter of international relations; and the skill to bring this knowledge together in advancing both the interests of our country and the establishment of working understandings with others.”