123. Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Lord) to the Deputy Secretary of State (Rush)1


  • The “Back to Back” Relationship for State and AID in the Geographic Bureaus

Aid programs and their administration have historically evoked feelings ranging from mild anxiety to acute discomfort. Remedy has been sought in baptism (new name), conversion (new philosophy), and reorganization.

This dynamic condition derives from the ebb and flow of competing bodies of belief and has resulted in a high degree of eclecticism which leaves everybody dissatisfied, but few so unhappy as to wield the ax.

The concept of Back to Back, instituted in the Latin America Bureau a decade ago, is an organizational device which is intended to integrate our economic development programs with our total policy.

The eclecticism of our assistance policies is evident when we observe that the other bureaus were not so structured. Given the choice of two competing faiths, we chose both.

The term “Back to Back” as used herein refers to an integrated geographic bureau relationship similar to that in ARA, rather than to the co-location relationship which does not imply chains of authority but which has also been discussed elsewhere and at other times.

The Inspector General’s office has just completed another review of the effectiveness of the system. Other groups within State and AID have also recently performed evaluations in response to questions posed by the Murphy Commission.2 This paper does not duplicate those efforts or evaluations.

The Back to Back system has advantages and disadvantages. The net evaluation as to whether it or the status quo in the other geographic bureaus of State and AID is more desirable is largely determined by the perception of the role of aid which is brought to the judgement.

[Page 434]

The Functional Approach:

Internal organizational decisions for State and AID must be significantly influenced by the reality of the functional approach to aid. That approach is embodied in the legislation for FY 74, reflected in the orientation of policy makers in AID, and reinforced by the manner in which AID has configured itself.

The functional approach is not, in the first instance, country oriented. Conceptually therefore it is apolitical. This is reflected in the internal organization of AID where the policy making function has been heavily concentrated in the Bureau of Planning and Policy Coordination and the Technical Assistance Bureau. Given the present legislative mandate, it is not improbable that AID’s geographic functions would be even further de-emphasized by the creation of functional bureaus accompanied by a further narrowing of the geographic focus.

Realistically, geographic integration would have severely restricted relevance in a highly functionally oriented AID.

The Heart of the Problem:

At the heart of the problem is the perception—or judgement—of the appropriate function of aid. If aid is viewed as an integral part of US foreign policy which is to be configured in support of that policy, then a full integration of the Department of State and AID would be a viable alternative to the current arrangement.

If aid serves substantially independent purposes, then it is questionable as to whether or not a greater identity of State and AID is desirable. Indeed, some would argue for a genuinely autonomous agency.

It would be a gross misrepresentation to suggest that there is any enthusiasm for the Back to Back system among the senior officers in AID who were interviewed. One exception—an administrative officer—showed positive interest (as distinguished from enthusiasm). He saw efficiencies to be gained. Indeed it is amusing to observe that the administrative officers were the only ones who did not see substantial administrative and logistics problems associated with the Back to Back system.

A third, and purely pragmatic view would absent itself from the philosophic dispute. This view would be based upon the observation that in the real world both the development and the foreign policy views of foreign assistance have their constituencies and that the only way to get adequate funding for each is to do both. Proponents of this view would argue that our eclectic foreign assistance policy is appropriate both substantively and organizationally and therefore would not benefit significantly from change. They would assert that while the status quo entails certain tensions within the bureaucracy, notably between State and AID, that these tensions are by and large constructive [Page 435] and creative and are on balance desirable. Indeed they would assert that the reduction of these tensions via a Back to Back relationship tends to obscure legitimate differences and that this is the price which is paid for the easier operation which Back to Back affords.

The potential integrees are the coolest. They are unable to discern how their assumption of a position subordinate to their current peers would improve matters.

AID officers are second class citizens in the Foreign Service. They are not bothered by this so long as they are masters in their own house. However, they do mind being institutionally subordinate as a matter of principle to people whom they view—at best—as their peers.

Experience in ARA/LA has not lessened their concern. With one exception, all of the desk officers are FSOs. AID is not in on the main process by which desk officers are chosen. The deputy slot is usually the AID slot. Officers with options usually resist being assigned to it.

Few AID officers feel the need for the “foreign policy guidance” which FSOs are so prone to talk about. This is conditioned by their experience with FSOs, especially in the field, where contact occurs largely in countries to which AID officers aspire to go and FSOs are sent. There is little coincidence of assignment of the elites of the two groups.

One astute veteran of many reorganizations observed that in the final analysis there is a network of people in the US bureaucracy who do certain things in a relatively collegial fashion and that no matter how you organize them, the same people tend to be doing the same things. In his view, the benefits and liabilities associated with one form of organization or another were therefore rather marginal.

The Dual System:

State and AID have separate personnel and administrative systems. Promotion and assignment of officers in each system are made independently of the other. Necessarily, this means that officers in one system will be responsive to officers in another only to the extent that it does not impede their advancement within their own system.

The Back to Back system leaves this condition unchanged, and can therefore expect to enhance voluntary cooperation rather than the closer conformity which a single administrative and personnel system would encourage.

The separate personnel systems carry other difficulties. The buzz words that get AID officers promoted are not the same as those which get State officers promoted. It is therefore risky in certain instances for one to work for the other. More basic yet, there is no assurance that an officer from one system will understand fully what an officer from another is doing and therefore be able, even if he does know the buzz words, to give a fair and appropriate assessment of his subordinate’s [Page 436] performance. This can result in over generosity as well as parsimony and therefore undeserved promotions as well as being undeservedly passed over.

There is also a problem of comparative rank in State and AID. While in the aggregate, State and AID officers tend to have the same age rank groupings, within each service different groups fare differently. For instance, an economic officer will most likely rise more rapidly in AID than in State. If they must compete for the same job, the State economic officer will be at a disadvantage.

Within each system, the benefits of working in the other system are disproportionate. Most State officers benefit substantially from the experience of dealing with the program and administering it. An AID tour is not considered “outside the career path”. In the case of AID officers, the State experience is career enhancing for a far more limited group of officers who aspire to the relatively small number of jobs which AID has with heavy political content.

On the State side the Back to Back system elicits differing views. Some officers welcome the opportunity to expand their career experience and believe that there are benefits to be gained from the increased mutual sensitivity which the Back to Back system promotes. Others, however hold a more traditional view and prefer to confine the State role to one of policy guidance.

Advantages of the Back to Back System:

The advantages of the Back to Back system can be substantial, and tend to vary proportionately with the size of the program in a given country. The more important the program, the more beneficial is the mutual sensitivity of officers. The real benefit lies in a convergence of the perception of a problem in a particular country, and of the approach which is desirable to deal with it. This convergence is a direct function of the closer interrelationship of personnel. It results in closer coordination and more expeditious resolution of difficulties, and provides a single geographic backstop in Washington. This latter is again of greater benefit to State than to AID because AID must still maintain a backstop in order to handle technical issues which are quite unrelated to the considerations of the State Department Desk.

Short of integration of the two personnel systems, the Back to Back system offers the greatest opportunity for bringing about a convergence of the views in State and AID as they operate in a particular country. This would be even more beneficial if it were extended to the field.

The judgement as to whether or not the Back to Back system is on balance sufficiently desirable and superior to justify its extension to EA, NEA and AF depends in significant measure upon the willingness of [Page 437] participants in the arrangement to cooperate with one another, the willingness of AID to delegate sufficient authority to the State geographic bureaus to make it a genuinely viable and valuable approach. Most important of all, however, is the philosophical judgement as to what constitutes the appropriate object of US foreign assistance.

If that object is to make assistance an integral part of foreign policy, broadly defined, and responsive to that foreign policy, then the Back to Back system offers the first step toward the attainment of that goal. Realistically, however, it is only a partial move in that direction, and only full integration of the two systems would offer significant promise of the attainment of the goal.

If, however, the primary purpose of our foreign assistance programs is to accomplish economic development as such, then the Back to Back system would derrogate from that objective.

If the judgement is that as a pragmatic matter, US foreign assistance policy should be eclectic, then the advantages offered by the Back to Back system do not appear sufficient to offset the disadvantages involved in extending it to NEA, EA, and AF.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Files of the Policy Planning Staff, Director’s Files (Winston Lord), Entry 5027, Box 346, January 1974. Confidential. Drafted by John K. Wilhelm (S/PC) on January 9.
  2. Regarding the Murphy Commission, see Document 147.