143. Action Memorandum From the Director General of the Foreign Service (Laise) to Secretary of State Kissinger1

The Professional Service of the Department of State

In the Department of State you, as Secretary, have a resource of exceptional wealth. As you have acknowledged, it is a pool of intelligence, versatility, and dedication. Yet you, like other leaders, have found flaws in the Service that seem to defy explanation or correction. You have characterized the fault as one of organization.

During my first month as Director General, I have conducted a rigorous examination of our personnel management problems as seen both from within Personnel and by key officials in the rest of the Department. The conclusions which emerge support your diagnosis. The central and overriding fact is that to have a coherent organization and personnel system requires a centralized management strategy responsive to the foreign policy priorities established by the President and you. Our condition is ripe for correction and can be turned to good account only if you give a strong lead. We have the vision, the authority, the policies, and the people to do the job; in effect we know the score, but are sadly out of practice in harmonizing our efforts. Strong central direction and your personal authority will be required to pull together our long-fractured system because it is split by numerous vested interests which will see change as jeopardizing their territorial imperatives. These are bureau heads, Ambassadors and other agencies (e.g. Commerce, Labor, OMB), some with strong lines to the Hill. And as we move forward, we will also need AFSA’s cooperation.

An analysis of our problems, the decisions we need from you, and our planned courses of action follow.

The Problem

Our mission is to provide service and leadership for the nation in foreign affairs. To do this we must organize our talents so well that the Department of State will by the excellence of its performance become the point of synthesis for American policy toward the rest of the world and command the conduct of our foreign relations. We can no longer compensate for our shortcomings by the vastness of our nation’s resources or by a position of worldwide dominance. Nor can we now af [Page 501] ford to look only outward; we must also face inward to the American people, their elected representatives, and the other agencies of Government. To achieve our mission, we must, above all, have a sense of that mission. Only with a vivid concept of purpose can we engage the enthusiasm and discipline for the task and achieve the standard of excellence required.


Our professional service today is without a proper sense of its own professional mission, nor do we have a clear view whether our organization is adequately arranged to meet our goals. We must develop a central definition of objectives and direction, and in doing so, make some basic judgments that affect not only the foreign policy interests of the United States, but determine how we develop people, how they should relate to the objective, and how they should function and organize in working towards that objective.

Without an agreed sense of professional purpose, the Department has increasingly slipped into particularism. Our system is criss-crossed with rank, position and organizational patterns, different employment structures, and competing cones. While this diversity could be a strength, the various elements are in fact ill-defined and their relationships to each other blurred. The old laissez-faire system—a small Foreign Service of political generalists—admittedly produced some unfair monopolies, but it has long since faded and been replaced by a system of protectionism. Our vision is fractured both substantively, with our resources supporting a bilateral approach to multinational problems, and organizationally, with the emphasis on which part of the elephant one happens to be touching. Many of the rigidities in our structure arose from long overdue attempts to correct wrongs of the past and the improvements should be carefully guarded for rational and equitable management. But they have also encouraged a system of competing self-interests that is bedraggled and divided by regulations, rules, labels, and guarantees where each force produces its own counter-force and where each group regards the other with suspicion. There is an element of creativity in these competing tensions, but not when it is without focus. And the more rigid and divided we have become, the less flexible and responsive we can be. We need more mobility, more breadth of vision, and more emphasis on excellence; but the drift in the Department, perhaps reflecting a drift in our society as a whole, is towards security and narrowness. Discipline, without which a complex organization cannot operate effectively, is often now countered by self-interest.

The ill-defined central role of the Department and the increasing particularism within the organization have an amplifying effect on each other. The more confused we are about central objectives, the more vulnerable we are to centrifugal tugs. It is this process which must be reversed.

[Page 502]

We have also been unable to resolve a long-standing dichotomy in the Foreign Service experience. The arts of diplomacy abroad are not easily translated into the dynamics of policy formulation at home. Overseas we observe events in which our participation is limited and seek to compromise when faced with conflicts. In Washington we are expected to lead within the bureaucracy and seek confrontation if necessary. Virtues abroad become sins at home. The requirements for service overseas and service in Washington are not irreconcilable, but they demand different emphasis in training and experience if we are to act effectively in both contexts.

There are varying or conflicting perceptions, interests, and expectations when people view our Department and Foreign Service. External criticisms, proposals for sweeping reform, and our own self-analyses have never produced a workable alternative to the concepts underlying the professional service. We must proceed on the basis that the nation requires a corps of foreign affairs professionals, recruited and selected through rigorous procedures, which should include persons expert in politics, economics, and other disciplines. This central corps of professionals should not be merely coordinators of other interests and specialities. It must be capable of drawing together the widely divergent interests of our society and government, synthesizing this array of forces, tapping the available expertise, and advising our political leadership how best to pursue our national objectives. It embraces generalists and specialists; mobile people and continuity people; African specialists and financial economists; experts in liaison with Defense and experts in Russian; computer analysts, Ambassadors, and vice consuls. To insist that this variety of Americans amounts to one service is not to say that any single member can qualify for all the jobs we offer. Career patterns will vary widely. What is vital is to ensure opportunity, so that those who rise to the top are the best, whatever their previous field of expertise. The construction of tight-walled career categories does not facilitate this; nor does it correspond to the fact that our professionals have extraordinarily varied mixes of talent and experience which no single category can adequately encompass. Our service should be single in its mission, not necessarily in its structure.

A single service embracing all professional employees of the Department seems a laudable goal, but efforts to move in that direction have simply created different sets of divisions and rearranged the mirrors. The dilemma of trying to squeeze different professional roles into one system is enduring, and recent efforts have not met with much success nor have they overcome the neglect of our Reserve and Civil Service Officers and their potential. We continue to need three basic groupings of people: a Foreign Service Officer Corps which serves at home and abroad, a corps of specialists which also serves at home and [Page 503] abroad (the Foreign Service Reserve), and a professional corps which serves only at home (the Civil Service). We must rationally and structurally sort out the dedicated specialist and the broad-based generalist, provide realistic and open career opportunities for all professional employees, and give coherence to the whole. It requires examination of the role of the Civil Service in the Department, of the purpose of the Foreign Service Reserve authority, and of the advantages and disadvantages of functional specialization within the officer corps. At the same time we must attach a heavy weight to the pendulum that regularly swings through the management of personnel resources, fix a corporate strategy, and stick with it. This requires continuity, both in policy and people, which is essential to leadership in Washington.

Finally, we must tighten the bond between the institution and the individual. Commitments are required by each to the other. The institution can best discharge its obligations in a context of openness, consistency, and responsiveness to the personal concerns of our employees. If we act rationally and equitably, we have every right to expect that the individual will respond with the discipline and esprit which lie at the heart of our professional ethic. Developing our central mission and breaking down service parochialism will depend to a large extent on the maturity of the relationship which is established and on the discipline of both the individual and the institution.

Action Required

Bringing it all together requires leadership, which can only come from the Seventh Floor of the Department.

Before its policies can be institutionalized, the Department must institutionalize its authority in resource management. I do not believe the leadership of the Department has yet been able to organize itself to establish its priorities and shift its resources to meet new requirements. Only the Seventh Floor has the broad outlook and authority to order competing priorities and to allocate or reallocate money, positions, and people to support these objectives. A central concept needs central direction.

The Bureau of Administration is developing some proposals and new mechanisms to improve resource allocation planning in the Department. I would propose that their and our efforts be brought together and concentrated on the Seventh Floor and that you authorize the formation of a Priorities Policy Group which would systematically review the relationship between policy priorities and resources, and identify the fat and the lean. Its primary aim should be to develop basic policies that will guide the allocation of our resources and thereby establish a central framework to assure that the operations governing the use of people, money, and positions are responsive to top management’s priorities. It should be adequately staffed in M to give it institutional force. The [Page 504] Group should be chaired by the Deputy Under Secretary for Management and include the Director of the Policy Planning Staff, the Assistant Secretary for Administration, and the Director General. The A Bureau, with responsibility for funds and positions, and M/DG, with authority in recruitment, training, and assignments, would be responsible for the coordinated implementation of policies developed by the Group.


That you approve the establishment of the Priorities Policy Group.2

It is your support of the Group’s authority that will in turn enable me to attack six critical areas in our personnel management. We already have in the Department the instruments for improvement, but they must be grasped firmly, and it is my intention to do so. There are constraints, especially in the necessity to consult and negotiate some procedures with AFSA, but our relations with the Association have been candid and cooperative. The six key items on my agenda are summarized below and discussed more fully in the attachments.3

1. An Integrated Service—If it is to provide a versatile, responsive professional corps to the Department, the personnel system must utilize all available means. With varying demands for skills and for both mobility and continuity in staffing the Department and posts abroad, we should draw upon our authority under the Civil Service system as well as the Foreign Service Act4 to gain the advantages of each. Under objectives set by the Priorities Policy Group, we need to define our requirements and fit them to the characteristics and strengths of each personnel category in light of experience and changing needs. It is an enduring problem and one that strikes at the foundation of our organization. We need as well to ensure intelligent use of techniques of recruitment, assignment, career development and advancement for all professionals of the Department. We must include effective means to permit movement of people among service sub-structures. We are now re-examining the relationships among the three basic employment categories of the Department—the Foreign Service Officer Corps, the Foreign Service Reserve, and the Civil Service—with the goal of an integrated service characterized by unity if not uniformity (see Tab 1).

[Page 505]

2. Recruitment—Recruitment of the best available professionals is vital to renewal within the Department. FSO recruitment needs refinement, including an end to labeling by cone at entry, although a form of the cone system continues at the middle levels for FSOs to encourage functional expertise. Our ad hoc hiring in the Reserve and Civil Service is in need of drastic overhaul. Lateral entry and conversion programs which allow mobility between substructures must also be subject to more rigorous standards and systematized. Clearer definition of our needs in all categories is essential to the success of recruitment efforts, but perhaps more important, we must assure that the best people already in the service are enlisted in the process of attracting the best new people to the service. The best professionals must be prepared, when asked, to leave their operational activities to devote short blocks of time to recruitment and examination if we are to have an institution capable of high quality self-renewal (See Tab 2).

3. The Best to the Top—If our recruitment is successful, our organization should also be able to identify the truly outstanding in the service and promote them so that they reach positions of leadership quickly. Our performance evaluation process, however, is not wholly satisfactory and has led to undue reliance on the assignment process to ensure that the best get to the top. But we can improve the existing evaluation process, and our prime aim is creation of effective junior and senior “thresholds” for all categories of professionals as a means of examining officer potential at critical points in their careers to identify, develop, and advance the best. We are now developing a program—drawing on assessment center techniques—which will permit us to examine closely those who are ready to move into the senior leadership positions in the service. We are also proposing that the Inspection Corps participate more vigorously in the process of evaluating individuals. Again, as in recruitment, we need to draw on the best in our service to act in the evaluation system. This is a major priority and we plan to insist that the very best officers be made available to serve on evaluation panels (see Tab 3).

4. The Assignment Process—Here is the crux of the problem. The quality of our policy and of its execution is a direct function of the people we select for key positions. Yet under the current system assignments are not the product of a rational, service-wide process but rather emerge from a continuous negotiation among a welter of competing interests. There are parochial claims of priority and in fact two assignment systems, one formal and the other informal, with different interests, objectives and authority. Today, bureaus and ambassadors can veto proposed assignments, even down to the lowest levels, and individuals negotiate their own assignments, turning down those they do not consider suitable. The core questions are: how policy priorities are communicated to the [Page 506] personnel system, so it can decide where the best talent should be allocated; the integrity and ability of Personnel to meet service needs, where many improvements are required; and the relative authority of bureaus, individuals and the central system in the assignment process. The solution proposed in Tab 4 is to provide a locus for orderly resolution through a graduated series of assignments panels, which take into account the legitimate interests of bureaus and individuals but make assignments without the right of turndown by individuals and with Bureau and ambassadorial vetos limited to only the most senior assignments. The assignments process is perhaps the most sensitive nerve in relations between vested interests in the service, and of all the proposals in this paper, this one may have the greatest immediate impact.

5. Professional Development—It is unlikely that recruitment, promotion, and assignments can alone produce the top quality leadership we need. Learning a profession requires training as well as experience. But our professional development program, which is vital to our task of getting the right people in the right jobs at the right time, is fragmented and lacks direction. We must consider formal training, on-the-job training, and details to other agencies all as part of a total career development program. And training is perhaps the best tool we have to resolve the dichotomy of service abroad and service in Washington. We need to place some of our very best younger and middle-grade officers with the Congress, private industry, state and local governments, and academic institutions. A revised Pearson Amendment offers one vehicle for this purpose, and changes in that amendment are already under consideration in the Congress (see Tab 5).

6. Resource Allocation—One key to managing the large, multifaceted service of the Department is a clear description of both the needs of the organization and the people available to meet them. An organization has to get its facts straight. We have not. The Department can develop the necessary manpower information systems (see Tab 6) to be effective and responsive to policy objectives, and it is this sort of central system that can provide the information on which the Priorities Policy Group and its staff must rely to understand the resources available and match them to our priorities.


That you authorize me to proceed to implement the programs summarized in this memorandum.5

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 335, Department of State, Eagleburger, Lawrence S.—Management Reform Proposals, Professional Service, May 1975. No classification marking. Sent through Eagleburger.
  2. Printed from a copy with no indication of approval or disapproval of the recommendation.
  3. None of the attached papers, drafted in M/DG and undated, are printed.
  4. The Foreign Service Act of 1946 (H.R. 6967), signed by President Truman on August 13, 1946, was the foundation of the Foreign Service’s postwar organizational structure.
  5. Printed from a copy with no indication of approval or disapproval of the recommendation, but see Document 144.