332. Letter From the Ambassador to Nepal (Laise) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Administration (Macomber)1

Dear Bill:

In response to your recent circular telegram (State 8959),2 we have subjected ourselves to critical self-examination on the basis of the relevant Task Force recommendations and related material, and have come up with the attached comments.3 The exercise was extremely worthwhile in and of itself, and opened our eyes to improvements that can be made in our own management, even though it has not produced many original recommendations of general applicability. On the whole, I honestly believe that we are committed to the kind of flexible, situation-oriented mission structure, characterized by openness and creativity, that the Task Force recommendations are trying to bring about. Of course, there are shortcomings which we continuously try to spot and correct, but our commitment and executive policy are in harmony with the Task Force objectives. Being a small mission is certainly a great advantage; complex institutional arrangements are needed in a large organization to endow it with at least some of the advantages of smallness, but when applied to a small organization which doesn’t need them in the first place, they are at best redundant, more likely, positively harmful. We are staying loose and I think are effectively responsive to changing requirements.

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, I should like to reaffirm a couple of basic philosophical points in this covering letter. The first relates to the concept of low profile. I think this is a good concept as long as it is considered a policy, and I commend the fact that it is so described here and there in the various Task Forces. But “low profile” makes no sense at all as an objective, as a goal to be pursued in its own right. If we start confusing ends and means and elevate the low profile concept from a means to an end in itself, we shall almost certainly go beyond a healthy pruning of what we have done in the world in the post-war years toward the destruction or undoing of much of the good which we have achieved.

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My second point relates to the chronic contradictions between what is real in the field and what is real in Washington. Our aid policies provide classic illustrations of this endemic impediment to effective foreign policies; you know better than I how the need to cater to Congressional and other demands for oversimplified formulas and box scores has repeatedly forced us to act in the field in ways that are plain foolish in the context of local conditions. Every previous reorganization of the Foreign Service and the State Department has involved at least some such straitjacketing of operations in the field. The hope this time, one which I fully share, is that we can achieve major improvements without suffering much of this kind of damage, because this reorganization is being done from within, by the professionals themselves. Even professionals, however, can mesmerize themselves with their own generalizations, particularly if they have been steeped for a while in the hothouse atmosphere of Washington; so even the present effort requires constant attention from its leaders to keep it honest and pragmatic rather than theological. In the final analysis, there are no bad missions, just bad ambassadors. No set of rules is a substitute for executive talent.

The situation we face in Nepal illustrates the necessity for utmost pragmatism in Washington if we are to be able to pursue our real interests here effectively and economically. The atmosphere is totally alien to Washington. This is an oral, familial society; institutions do exist and ostensibly they have policies, but it is the personal and familial relations that determine what happens. Economic development inputs simply don’t work if they are done “by the numbers,” strictly according to made-in-Washington global rules. There are other similar examples, (for example, local employee staffing patterns), that confront every element of this Mission to some degree or other. They all underscore the fact that if the U.S. Government has any interest at all in maintaining a presence in Nepal—and I am prepared to argue, in detail, the case that it does—then Washington should give its people here maximum freedom to determine how that interest should be pursued, within some reasonable total allocation of resources. This is only one aspect of the delegation of authority that is needed to stimulate and nurture creativity and innovation, a question that is considered at greater length in the attached paper.

Please forgive the hortatory tone of these remarks. I really think you and your colleagues are doing a tremendous job, and am moved to write the foregoing thoughts out of a sense of hope, not despair. At the same time, parallel developments, notably the directions AID reorganization seem to be taking, are most disturbing in the local context and in the context of the responsibilities laid on the Ambassador for insuring that our activities serve our national interest in any given country. I appreciate the way the Chiefs of Mission in the field have [Page 739] been consulted regarding the Task Force reports, but there has been no comparable effort that I know of to involve us similarly in the thinking going on in the task forces reorganizing aid and weighing future institutional shapes and relationships for economic development. Is there any way of wiring us into this process, systematically, before it is too late?

Finally, I would like to express thanks for the opportunity given us to participate in this management reform process, which in itself is contributing to improved management within this Mission.


  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Deputy Under Secretary for Management, Management Reform Task Force Papers: Lot 74 D 394, Task Force File, March 1971. Unclassified; Official–Informal. Carol Laise served as Ambassador to Nepal from 1966 to 1973.
  2. Document 329.
  3. Attached but not printed.