295. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State (Katzenbach) to Secretary of State-Designate Rogers and the Under Secretary of State-Designate (Richardson)1


  • Two Administrative Suggestions

You undoubtedly will want to take your time looking at a variety of matters concerning the personnel structure of the Department of State. Almost everyone agrees that many improvements can be made. There are two specific items that deserve immediate attention, though, and I wanted you to have my suggestions on these.


First, I have long since joined the chorus of critics of the promotion system. The last promotion boards, for example, failed to promote a number of people I regard as outstanding, several of whom are likely to leave the State Department as a result. At the same time, there has never been a Secretary or an Under Secretary who did not feel that the top ranks of the Foreign Service were full of names of men not good enough to be used in the Department’s most responsible jobs. At least there were obviously better men at lower ranks.

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Only belatedly has it occurred to me that the Secretary and Under Secretary have no business complaining about the choices made by the promotion boards if they don’t take the trouble to name the officers who are to sit on these boards. For some time now the Deputy Under Secretary for Administration has appointed the promotion boards, although he has no good way of knowing the type of substantive officer the Department needs. He’s in a very different line of work. By picking the selection boards he plays a major role in deciding who will be promoted—a role that should be played by the men ultimately responsible for the quality of the Department’s output (the Secretary and the Under Secretary). Moreover, the Deputy Under Secretary for Administration often cannot pull good enough men from their daily assignments even to perform this job, which is crucial to the health of the Service. You can and should.

Most Foreign Service officers would like nothing better than to respond wholeheartedly to the policy guidance of the President’s appointees. Unfortunately they must now also reckon on the career implications of their relations with senior men in the Service—some of whom have different ideas than you have about either substance or, more likely, style of operations. If you appoint the promotion boards, the built-in conflict is reduced if not resolved.

In short, the promotion system should reflect substantive operators’ views of the type of men they need and the only way this can be done is by your picking the men who will do the promoting. I would ask the Deputy Under Secretary for Administration to come up with a long list of possible names from which the Under Secretary could choose after consulting with the Secretary. This may seem like a lot of your time invested in a minor matter but the matter is not minor. The whole character of our foreign policy is affected by the decisions we make as to who gets ahead in the Foreign Service.

You should be careful to keep in a low key your presentation to the Foreign Service of any such change in the method of choosing the promotion boards. A good deal of reverence is paid (for example, by the recent report of the American Foreign Service Association),2 to the notion that the Foreign Service should be almost entirely self-regulating. I couldn’t disagree more and I think the results prove my case. But I would anticipate some reactions that the politicians were trying to destroy the purity of the career service. The whole notion that there is something “pure” about these decisions being made by the senior administrative officer of the Department, who is also appointed by the President, seems ridiculous to me.

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Second, the American Foreign Service Association recommended some time ago that we create an ombudsman to process the complaints of any of our people dissatisfied with the treatment they have received at the hands of our administrative machinery. Rightly or wrongly, a deep-seated suspicion of the honorableness of the Administrative area has been with us for some time and remains, as even a superficial investigation will confirm. People feel they are treated shabbily and have no recourse.

I would have gone ahead and set up an ombudsman procedure in the last few months, but I was concerned that it would look like a political move made in light of the election. The fears inevitably created by any change in administration would make such an action particularly desirable from your point of view. It would give just the right signal to the personnel of the Department and to the public at large. Moreover, congressional pressures in this direction (most recently evidenced by the Ervin bill) are building up at a fairly good pace. By taking this step on your own you can help control developments.

I have done some thinking on how I would handle the ombudsman proposal. Attaching these responsibilities to the Legal Adviser’s Office makes the most sense. The Legal Adviser already represents a moral force in the Department. He is never subject to the pressures that a career officer can feel even when he is appointed Assistant Secretary. The Legal Adviser has had and, I assume, will continue to have good access to both of you. Whether he would want to appoint a special man to this responsibility or give it to one of his present assistants isn’t crucial. What is, is that there be a more formal and adequate grievance recourse than we now have.3

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, ORG 8. No classification marking.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 292.
  3. At a February 16 meeting with Richardson, Katzenbach reemphasized the points made in this memorandum and made a number of additional recommendations, primarily concerning personnel policies. Among other things he advised Richardson to “identify really able young people and get them on the fast track,” encourage more interchanges between State and CIA, and, above all, start matching the personnel structure to the jobs. He also stated that the Policy Planning Council “has never been really effective” and was a waste of taxpayers’ money and that the Seventh Floor needed more staff, so long as the staff “doesn’t try to push itself into line operations—so long as not layering.” (Richardson, Notes of conversation; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Richardson Papers, Box 89, Chronological File)