141. Memorandum From the Director General of the Foreign Service (Davis) to Secretary of State Kissinger1

Improvement of the Foreign Service

I know you believe the most serious deficiency in the Service to be inability to furnish sufficiently dispassionate description and analysis of foreign events and their relationship to us. Too often, reporting is only reporting. Too many papers represent a lowest common denominator of clearing offices.

A second major deficiency lies in the fields of ethics and morale. There has been indiscipline unworthy of a career service in a democracy, despite the altruism and devotion of most officers. Senior and middle-grade officers complain that they are not made privy to Principals’ deliberations and decisions; junior officers bicker over relative opportunity for promotion; assignments are too often negotiated.

You have also been concerned over the narrow focus of some officers. The program of transfers out of area is broadening the Service’s [Page 489] outlook, but some officers still resist leaving a familiar environment. The Bureaus are changing in attitude and receptivity to new blood, but there is a way to go. The breadth and depth of officers’ contacts with American society and institutions leave room for an increase.


Some causes of these deficiencies are external to the Service and the Department. Perhaps even the best of modern Americans are less analysis-minded and less disciplined than we would like. Perhaps the sense of a changed role for America in the world, and the recent course of domestic events, have damaged our diplomats’ morale and sense of ethical commitment. Our problems are compounded by the general realization of most officers that many things are wrong with the Service. Self-doubt has fed on introspection; and both unfair criticism and relentless truth have undermined confidence and the Service’s sense of style. If so, we must intensify our efforts to improve recruitment, self-improvement and the management of our corps.

One factor working against improvement in the past was the fact that our position seemed so strong that it could hardly be weakened by faults in an individual Embassy, or indeed in a whole Service. It seemed we could send anyone abroad as an Ambassador, or tolerate any standard of reporting and analysis, and hardly be hurt. This is not the case now. In truth, it never was; and some of your predecessors found the same faults you have.

According to our Foreign Affairs Manual, political reporting “. . . forms an indispensable base for foreign policy decision-making.”2 S/S issues instructions on how papers should be written for Principals. But the organization of the Department contributes to deficiencies in communication between the Service and the Principals. Bureaucratic layering does not prevent significant reporting from reaching your desk, but it can make it difficult to send forward a policy memorandum without views being watered down. Too little feed-back is given to the field about reporting.

We have not put full stress, in examining candidates for the Foreign Service, on their ability in conceptual thinking and analysis. A junior officer does not receive enough schooling in these skills either in training or on the job.

Morale and discipline are affected adversely not only by a sense of non-participation, and by factors general to our society, but by such things as pay. People have never been attracted to the Foreign Service by high salaries, but in a time of low morale our continuing failure to [Page 490] compete with industry salaries, and the effects of inflation at home and abroad, cause additional discouragement.

Another difficulty lies in our system of rewards. There are frequent complaints in the Service that promotions are slow. This was true for several years, but the trend since 1973 has been larger promotion lists at senior and middle-grade levels and we shall be able to continue this improvement in 1975.

Although we have pushed a number of the ablest officers to the top reasonably fast, the continuing lack of candor in our Efficiency Reports—despite some improvement—leaves open the question whether we always promote the best. Nor does our promotion system put sufficient emphasis on excellence in conceptual analysis.

The recent trend in employee-management relations is continuing. The Department’s new grievance procedures and the development of employee-management relations have influenced the atmosphere and psychology of the Foreign Service. There are some who believe that a “sense of separation” between employees and management has worked against discipline and unity of purpose. To the extent there is truth in this view, it is an oversimplification and concentrates on the costs of what has been, overall, a healthy change.

A further cause of trouble is the inherent ambivalence of the diplomat’s role. He may feel his own importance as he sits in the front row, but he is not the main performer. He is called over-cautious; but in part that is because he brings the bad tidings, and points out the pitfalls, and warns that we cannot always have things our way. He is accused of clientism, and sometimes he is guilty; but at other times he has been reporting unwelcome realities. The diplomat must serve his nation’s interests; he must also be a bridge, and bridges get walked on. Washington is not always faithful or fair in upholding the diplomat in the field who is not “popular.”

Steps to Improve the Service

Steps proposed in this paper relate to (A) recruitment, (B) selection, (C) training, (D) assignment, and (E) promotion. To be effective, these should be complemented by steps in other areas of the Department aimed at the same goal.

A. Recruitment:

We have a sufficient number of applicants—over 13,000 applied for and 9,000 actually took the last FSO written exam, and of these only about 170 will be commissioned. By every criterion those appointed are gifted, well prepared, and well motivated. (A 1965 Carnegie study found younger FSOs better at problem analysis than a group of young company Presidents.) Still, we do not know how many good potential [Page 491] candidates never approach us; and we have not put all possible emphasis on creativity and talent for conceptual analysis. We therefore propose to take the following steps:

1. We shall go systematically to college deans, heads of graduate schools, and key professors to seek their views as to what types of young people are attracted to the Service, with particular regard to our success and failure in finding people with analytical ability and creativity.

2. We shall revise our recruitment literature for the 1975 written exam to heighten our emphasis on the role of the Foreign Service in providing policy analysis to the Secretary and other principal officers of the Department. Recruiters will give similar emphasis during their visits to campuses.

B. Selection:

1. All candidates passing the written exam in 1974 and thereafter will be asked to submit to the Board of Examiners, prior to their oral examinations, material illustrating their ability in conceptual analysis.

2. Instructions for the essay written by the candidate as part of the written examination will, beginning with this December’s exam, emphasize that the essay will be used to discern ability in conceptual analysis.

3. Although the Educational Testing Service tells us the 1974 exam already contains questions designed to test such analytical ability, more will be added in the 1975 exam.

4. Examiners will be trained to give special attention during the oral examination to candidates’ capacity for conceptual analysis. This capacity will also be given full weight in our selection of examiners.

In addition, instructions have been sent to Deputy Examiners currently conducting Junior Threshold interviews here and abroad, that particular attention is to be paid in their evaluations to evidence of ability in conceptual analysis.

Our selection process already emphasizes the need for morality and probity in a candidate. All candidates are asked about their readiness to support U.S. foreign policy. The right of dissent, within the discipline of the Service, is explained. Examiners have been instructed to take particular care to ensure that all candidates understand clearly the intellectual and ethical expectations of the Foreign Service.

C. Training:

We are proposing to take several steps which we believe will make our training programs quickly responsive to the need for greater skills in conceptual analysis, and for heightened awareness of professional ethics and professional discipline:

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1. We are working with FSI to design a new segment of the Basic Officer Course to relate to these needs. Drawing on the best officers in the Service, we hope to give the new officer a clearer understanding of the need to relate each functional and area assignment to our policy, its formulation and implementation. We will also present the clearest possible picture of ethical and disciplinary requirements, particularly as they relate to problems an officer is likely to encounter in his first years of service.

2. For high-calibre mid-career officers, we are working with FSI on a new program of short courses and seminars and longer-term training. We shall put new stress on the analysis of foreign-policy issues (particularly in a redesigned course for Section Chiefs and DCMs), and on an individual’s need to relate growing expertise in an area to global considerations and the broadest U.S. interests. FSI has already begun giving a new course in systematic political analysis—a copy of the syllabus is attached at Tab A3—and Pete Vaky4 will lead the discussion on this subject at the next Section Chiefs’ course, in Bogota. We are looking into the best way to add material on ethical and disciplinary needs to courses for mid-career officers.

3. We plan to work into the Senior Seminar a series of case studies of the ethical and analytical problems a senior officer is likely to encounter—where local problems and priorities, or bureaucratic pressures in Washington, may sway an officer’s perception and decisions. Particular stress will be put on the senior officer’s responsibility to serve the policy-makers, and to inculcate the highest professional standards in junior officers. Officers at the Seminar will be encouraged to choose a subject in these fields for their Seminar paper. (The National War College has already instituted a course on professional ethics; a copy of the syllabus is attached at Tab B.)5

D. Assignment:

1. In assignment to program-direction and other senior jobs, we shall pay particular attention to proven ability in conceptual and analytical thinking.

2. To assist in bringing the Foreign Service into closer contact with American society, we shall continue to emphasize the desirability of assignments outside of the Department for Foreign Service officers. Officers are already assigned to thirty other U.S. agencies. We shall also encourage officers to take periods of leave without pay for professional and educational purposes. If an apparent conflict in legislative provi [Page 493] sions can be resolved, the Pearson Amendment to this year’s authorization bill will enable us to detail fifty officers a year to State and local governments. We should be able to keep approximately 10% of the officer corps in activities outside of the Department and Foreign Service.

E. Promotion:

We plan several immediate steps to identify and reward analytical ability:

1. Officers particularly known for their analytical and intellectual abilities are being named to this year’s senior selection boards, and to future boards, in order to stimulate the Boards to give high rankings to officers with a policy-analysis bent.

2. Special directives to this year’s senior boards will expand on the existing injunction to consider each officer’s ability to analyze problems. Precepts and directives to future boards will carry this theme forward.

3. The annual Officer Evaluation Report form, and instructions for it, will emphasize analytical ability as a particularly important quality.

In addition to the above, we have been considering the advantages of instituting an Assessment Center to permit more accurate identification of the most promising officers in our Service. Such centers are used widely in private industry and elsewhere in the Federal Government. We might have to discuss with AFSA various aspects of instituting such a center. If you should approve our moving ahead on this, we would need funding. A paper providing information on Assessment Centers is attached at Tab C.6

We need to say more to the members of the Foreign Service about what is expected of them. I hope you will address a message to the Service on this subject, perhaps building on the draft statement S/P has prepared.7


(1) That you indicate your approval of the proposed immediate steps outlined above in recruitment, selection, training, assignment and promotion.

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(2) That you authorize M/DG to proceed with plans to institute an Assessment Center for Foreign Service officers of Class 3, with final decision to be made by M following discussions as appropriate with AFSA and further definition of costs.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, General Administrative Correspondence Files of the Deputy Under Secretary for Management, 1968–75: Lot 78 D 295, M Chron, November 1974. No classification marking. Sent through Brown. Printed from a copy that Davis did not initial. Drafted by Peter S. Bridges (PER/PCE/SPS) on October 17. A note on the first page indicates that the memorandum was received from Eagleburger on November 12, forwarded to Laise on November 12, and returned to Brown on November 20.
  2. Ellipses is in the original.
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. Viron P. “Pete” Vaky, Ambassador to Colombia, 1973–1976.
  5. Attached but not printed.
  6. Not attached and not found.
  7. Not found. However, on November 18, Lord forwarded to Davis a November 1 memorandum from John Kornblum (S/P), relating Kissinger’s thoughts on the organization of the Foreign Service. (National Archives, RG 59, General Administrative Correspondence Files of the Deputy Under Secretary for Management, 1968–75: Lot 78 D 295, M Chron, November 1974)
  8. Kissinger approved both recommendations.