360. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Export-Import Bank (Kearns) to President Nixon1

Dear Mr. President,


  • Foreign Commerce Service
[Page 785]

In response to your request for my views I submit the following:


The magnitude of and opportunities in the international commerce of the United States demand that official government representation abroad must be equal or better in ability to that of other industrialized countries.

The commercial service representing the United States abroad should be professional in nature, permanent, experienced, knowledgeable, and oriented toward business.

The overseas posts should provide uniformity in the competence of commercial representation, especially in areas where there are significant established or potential markets.


With few exceptions, personnel assigned to commercial and economic representation is drawn from the foreign service and rarely has had any association with or knowledge of business.2

It is universally believed throughout the foreign service that there is no opportunity for advancement through the economic field.3 Most foreign service officers look upon an appointment as a career ambassador as the ultimate goal. To achieve this goal requires competence in politics, the ability to avoid controversy, and association with persons of like belief.

With few exceptions, foreign service officers are unwilling to assume any “risk” or criticism, not uncommon when an officer actively assists in business development. An aggressive “commercial type” is at a severe disadvantage in selection board evaluation.4

Official commercial and economic officers are “directed” by the political officers of the Department of State, who have little or no real interest in U.S. business development.

Those assigned to commercial activities are typically at the lowest end of a foreign post’s protocol list.

Official commercial representation varies drastically from post to post and from year to year, providing little in the host country when related to U.S. Government interest in any business or economic activity.

[Page 786]


Universally American business does not “trust” the so-called commercial officers. Seldom is there a request for assistance. Frequently an international American company having a foreign subsidiary will request the commercial officers from countries other than the United States for assistance. The result is usually that the exported product comes from a subsidiary rather than from the parent company.

Commercial reporting of opportunities, economic and business developments is not uniform; it varies from place to place and time to time, severely reducing its usefulness and meaning.


After careful and intimate examination of this subject for twelve years, it is my considered judgment that the one way to achieve an effective foreign commercial service would be to reinstitute the practice terminated at the end of the Administration of President Hoover—that of a professional Trade Commissioner Corps. Capable people can be recruited, trained, indoctrinated, and led to provide truly effective service which would mean a very significant improvement in United States economic activity abroad. This commercial service should be a part of the Department of Commerce but under the over-all policy direction of the Ambassador in each post. There is ample precedence. The Treasury and Agriculture Departments have had independent representatives for some time.

Sincerely yours,

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Subject Files, Box 338, HAK/Richardson Meetings, Jan 1970–March 1970. Personal and Confidential at the Request of the President. A note on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it. The President wrote on page 1: “K, I completely agree with this analysis. Shake Samuels et al hard & get action. All they have done so far is to tinker with the status quo.”
  2. Nixon underlined several words in this sentence and wrote “correct” in the right-hand margin.
  3. Nixon underlined the first sentence of this paragraph and wrote “correct” next to it.
  4. Nixon wrote “correct” in the right-hand margin next to this paragraph.