144. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Secretary Kissinger
  • Deputy Secretary Ingersoll
  • Ambassador Carol Laise, Director General
  • Mr. Lawrence S. Eagleburger, Deputy Under Secretary for Management
  • Mr. L.P. Bremer, Executive Assistant to the Secretary
  • Mr. Wesley W. Egan, Jr., Notetaker


  • “The Professional Service of the Department of State”

The Secretary opened the discussion and congratulated the Director General on the quality and thoroughness of her report.2 He noted that he had read the covering memo and the sections on the assignment process and recruitment with special care.

Ambassador Laise stressed the importance of establishing the Priorities Policy Group (PPG) to be chaired by the Deputy Under Secretary for Management and to include the Assistant Secretary for Administration, the Director General, the Director of Policy Planning and the Inspector General. Ambassador Laise and Mr. Eagleburger described the PPG as a staff arm for the Secretary and the channel through which the priority allocation of the Department’s personnel and material resources can be made. The Secretary agreed and stressed that the bureaus must not have the authority to veto assignments either in Washington or overseas.

Mr. Ingersoll noted that ambassadors and assistant secretaries should have some choice in the selection of their DCMs and deputy assistant secretaries respectively. The Secretary agreed but complained that too many ambassadors consider themselves autonomous barons overseas. This, he indicated, must stop. The Secretary further stressed the need for more background information on ambassadorial appointments, a more accurate assessment of the individuals’ professional capabilities, and greater emphasis on their strengths and weaknesses. Ambassador Laise commented that the efficiency report system is a complete charade and in her opinion does not honestly reflect an individual officer’s strengths and weaknesses. The Secretary asked what re [Page 508] forms were possible within the next six months that would not be either ignored or reversed after he leaves.

Ambassador Laise replied that a serious junior and senior thresh-old system must be devised and that a personnel inspection system, along the lines of the proposed Assessment Center,3 be established including representatives from outside the Department. Mr. Eagleburger noted that “Selection Out”4 as a thinning process has eroded to the point of uselessness and that since the creation of the Junior Threshold and the Review Board there had been only one case of selection out for time in grade at threshold. Mr. Eagleburger related the need for a tighter personnel system to the need for a “Comptroller”—to which the Secretary agreed—and the function of the central complement pool in providing much needed flexibility in staffing the needs of the Department and the overseas missions. The latter would remove control over assignments from the bureaus. The Secretary asked what the bureaus’ reaction to the consolidation of control over the assignment process would be and why assignment control had not been centralized before. Mr. Eagleburger responded that the reaction would, of course, be negative. He furthermore explained that since the days of Dean Acheson, the Department had gone through a series of managerial and personnel reforms and that the present situation represented extreme decentralization. Ambassador Laise noted that according to the Murphy Commission,5 George Marshall was the last Secretary of State to take any real interest in the Department’s daily management problems.

Mr. Ingersoll asked how the Foreign Service could be excluded from the present confrontational labor-management syndrome. Mr. Eagleburger said that to accomplish that the Executive Order6 would have to be amended. Ambassador Laise commented that in that respect the Murphy Commission might be willing to assume the responsibility for such an initiative. Mr. Eagleburger noted, however, that the Secretary would have to be involved in such a change. Ambassador Laise ex [Page 509] plained that the labor-management relations have been aggravated because: a) management has not made the existing system work effectively; and b) there is seldom a firm or fair management position.

The Secretary then explained that as a result of Ambassador Laise’s report he wanted to make a press statement regarding the general management and personnel reforms he planned to initiate after consultation with AFSA.7 He stressed the need for a basic statement of the problem and a thoughtful explanation, comprehensible to the layman, of those reforms anticipated. He insisted that some statement on the PPG be included and asked Ambassador Laise and Mr. Eagleburger to prepare a statement for his use within the next two weeks. The Secretary complained that State was the worst run department in the Government. He felt the need to give the Foreign Service a sense of pride in the Department’s overall operation that could be passed on to succeeding Secretaries of State. Ambassador Laise commented that the Foreign Service has traditionally focussed on serving overseas missions and not the Secretary. In this context, she noted two basic problems: a) can the merit system as it now functions successfully equip the Foreign Service Officer with enough “political” experience to service the Secretary and the White House as the present structure now demands; b) the Department’s excessively hierarchical structure makes it difficult to respond quickly to the Secretary’s needs.

Mr. Eagleburger felt the problem was of our own making and suggested the creation of a task force to examine the Department’s modus operandi. In addition, he suggested a thorough restructuring of the Foreign Service Institute. Mr. Eagleburger also felt that he and the Deputy Secretary should discuss the Department’s operational shortcomings with the Assistant Secretaries. He suggested that part of the problem might be the under-utilization of junior officers. He noted that they have a valuable contribution to make but too often are overburdened with menial clerical duties.

The Secretary agreed and indicated that he wanted the Foreign Service Institute reorganized by the beginning of the next academic year. He approved the creation of a special task force as suggested by [Page 510] Mr. Eagleburger and asked that it pay special attention to the clearance procedure which he considered excessively cumbersome.

  1. Source: Department of State, Files of Lawrence S. Eagleburger: Lot 84 D 204, Chron—June 1975. Confidential. Drafted by Wesley Egan (S). The meeting was held in Kissinger’s office at the Department of State.
  2. Document 143.
  3. See Document 141 and footnote 5 thereto.
  4. Established by Section 633 of the 1946 Foreign Service Act, the “Selection Out” process authorized the Secretary of State to prescribe regulations concerning a maximum period in which a Foreign Service officer “below the class of career minister shall be permitted to remain in class without promotion” and the standard of performance officers needed to maintain in order to remain in the Service. The process stipulated that Foreign Service officers below the class of career minister who did not receive a promotion within the specified period or who failed to meet the required standard of performance “shall be retired from the Service.”
  5. See Document 147.
  6. Eagleburger is referring to Executive Order 11491, signed October 29, 1969, which governed labor–management relations for Federal employees (for the text, see Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Vol. 5, No. 44, November 3, 1969, pp. 1501–1508). This Executive Order was amended by Executive Order 11838, signed February 6, 1975 (ibid., Vol. 11, No. 6, February 10, 1975, pp. 158–160).
  7. On June 27, in remarks delivered at the swearing-in ceremony of the 119th Foreign Service officer class, Kissinger announced several reforms to the Department’s personnel and resource allocation systems, including adjustments to examinations for FSOs; the institution of a program to recruit more women and minorities; implementation of a “threshold” system for evaluating promotions; and the establishment of a centrally-directed assignment process, a Board of Professional Development, and a rotation scheme for training junior officers. In addition, Kissinger announced the creation of a Priorities Policy Group (PPG) with oversight responsibilities for the Department’s budget and resource allocation. The full text of this speech is in the Department of State Bulletin, July 21, 1975, pp. 85–90.