100. Memorandum Prepared by Nathaniel Davis of the National Security Council Staff1


The Problem

It is said that there are old bureaucrats and bold bureaucrats, but no old, bold bureaucrats. Some unkind soul has suggested that a foreign service officer experiences a change of life at 27. Fair or not, the State Department is the object of constant criticism for rigidity, conservatism, and pedestrianism. This is an increasing political problem for the Administration.

The Opportunity

The new team of Katzenbach, Rostow and Kohler is an opportunity for initiative. Katzenbach has already shown interest in administering the Department, and in the people who work there. He is a fresh outsider, with a lot of prestige.

Katzenbach might assemble around himself a small staff or working group to examine ways to encourage initiative and innovation. A committee which included some bright outsiders, willing to devote full time to the project, might also be considered. Still further afield, foundation or other professional assistance might be invited. (For example, the newly formed Arthur Vining Davis Foundation is investigating how institutions can “stay young.” It might be willing to put up a sum of private money to help in such a project.)

Regardless of structure, it would be important to have the new State team, plus Crockett, directly and responsibly involved.

A Few Lines of Inquiry

The project might look for institutional levers to redirect the Department toward greater innovation, imagination, creativity, and [Page 211]freedom of constructive dissent. The key is people and attitude. Exhortation is not enough. Possible levers:

  • Promotion: Could the Performance Rating Report be revised to force the rating officer to expose the good, decent, ingratiating, dependable, conscientious officer as being no more? “Accuracy” and “dependability” are among the qualities listed for rating on the form. “Readiness to dissent” and “Innovations this officer has been responsible for” are not. The man of great peaks-and-valleys suffers in competition with the smooth, round stone. Besides the ratings, promotion process can be influenced through precepts to the promotion boards, instructions to foreign service inspectors, etc.
  • Assignments: It has been said of the Foreign Service that promotions are based on a man’s dossier and assignments on his reputation. The assignment of men to jobs is a second key lever for redirecting the spirit and thrust of the Department. With determination and high-level support, personnel assignment policies could be enforced which would encourage innovation.
  • The Inspection System: The Katzenbach project might consider divorcing the inspection system from the regular Service. The senior inspector knows that in a few years he may be dependent on the goodwill of the Ambassador he is inspecting. Conversely, the inspector may simply be the grizzled old dog about to retire.
  • The Role of the Policy Planning Staff: Can its creative role be enhanced?
  • Non-Institutional Devices: A look at the devices worked out by the White House might provide some ideas—such as the confidential task forces. At the White House, speech writing is a major instrument of policy innovation.
  • The Clearance Process: The labyrinthine clearance process at State needs review. Perhaps advisory clearances, with authority to override vested in a country director, would be worth examining. Is there any way that the blocking of a cable in clearance can be made more onerous? Can the institutional odds be shifted, ever so slightly, against the inaction compromise?
  • The Career-Non-Career Ratio: Some jobs are too much a career preserve (e.g. the geographic desks) and some are probably not enough so (a year or two ago the Congressional relations staff had not a single Foreign Service Officer). The Foreign Service is too much shielded from the Congress, the press and the pressure groups. Assignment of Foreign Service Officers to other agencies—Defense, Commerce, AID, the Peace Corps, etc.—can only be made ineffective if the best officers are assigned and clearly rewarded for that service.
  • Rand: Rand may not be the answer for the State Department, but non-official satellite organizations of that general type might be explored.

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These are only a few possibilities. Katzenbach and his men could do far better if they give the project some attention, determination, and time.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, White House Central Files, Subject Files, Ex FG 105. No classification marking. Davis forwarded the memorandum to Cater under cover of an undated note stating, “This is a non-memo.” Under cover of a November 10 memorandum, Cater forwarded Davis’ memorandum to Moyers, indicating that Davis had prepared it at Cater’s suggestion after discussing “the problem of innovation in the State Department and, particularly, revitalization of the foreign services.” Cater asked Moyers if the memorandum was “worthy of pursuit with the President?” There is no indication that it was brought to the President’s attention.