131. Memorandum From the Secretary of State’s Executive Assistant (Eagleburger) to Secretary of State Kissinger1



  • The Cone System

Here, again, is the Cone System Study.2 In essence, the Cone System institutionalizes specialization within the Foreign Service by varying recruitment, assignment and promotion standards among four specialities—Administrative, Economic, Consular and Political. The Sys-tem is disliked by the Political FSO’s, who, in the absence of cones, would get more promotions because they would be judged relative to all FSO’s and not just the Political “elite.”

Specialists in the Foreign Service and several special interest groups outside the Department—Commerce, Labor, OMB—favor retention of the cones. The non-political specialists fare better by not [Page 457] having to compete with the Political officers. OMB and other agencies are averse to elimination of the cones for fear that, in this complex age, the all-purpose FSO would not be able to cope with the specialized problems confronting him.

Nat Davis proposes that we relax cone designations at senior and junior grades, but retain a specialization system in middle grades. This would (a) eliminate differentiated entrance standards and (b) improve promotion chances to the senior “leadership” level for the traditionally better Political officers. By retaining mid-level specialization, however, Davis’ proposal ensures the availability of specialized skills at the grades where assignments requiring such skills are most common.

Davis’ proposal does away with the worst trappings of the cone system. The beauty of this approach is that, should you decide to do away with the Cone System in its entirety in a year or two, this is a logical first step. And leaving mid-level cones intact for now will partially mollify the Cone Supporters.


That you approve the Director General’s recommendation for a modified Cone System and instruct him to initiate consultations with AFSA on this without delay.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Files of Lawrence S. Eagleburger: Lot 84 D 204, Chron—April 1974. No classification marking. A handwritten note by Eagleburger indicates that the memorandum was forwarded to Davis through Brown on April 23.
  2. See Document 126.
  3. Kissinger initialed his approval.