154. Memorandum From the Director General of the Foreign Service (Laise) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Management (Eagleburger)1


  • The Department’s Personnel Structure: A Rational Solution

The structure of the Department’s personnel system has been studied enough times, both from without and within, so that any attempt to characterize the process almost inevitably falls into cliches.

Even as we moved into the postwar era, the Foreign Service Act2 moved to strengthen the Department’s personnel system. The Hoover Commission which followed three years later opened a series of diagnoses, or autopsies, which exposed flaws in performance and prescribed varied systemic remedies.3 Of these, two (Hoover and Diplomacy for the 70’s) advocated an essentially unitary worldwide Foreign [Page 534] Service system;4 one (Herter) postulated worldwide and domestic categories in a Foreign Service system;5 and three (Wriston, AFSA, and Murphy) presumed or advocated continued use of the Civil Service, as had the Foreign Service Act itself.6

It has been painfully clear to me that we have not yet solved the problems which have driven us to these searches for solutions. The Secretary having approved the review which I proposed in my memorandum of May 17,7 we have studied the Department’s structure against the background of our current personnel policy and the broad foreign policy objectives discussed in that memorandum. We put primary focus in the former on that policy’s premise that it would bring a unity of effort and flexible management while meeting the Department’s human needs in a modern diplomacy. In the latter—our foreign policy goals—we addressed the critical need for special skills, including those which are most needed at the headquarters.

As an analytical tool, we examined the central processes of our personnel system—and the problems which beset us—in terms of the three types of personnel structures advocated in the various studies. The report of this examination is at Tab 1.8

Since current policy postulates a total Foreign Service system, unified in the sense that non-FSO’s would be in a single worldwide cate [Page 535] gory,9 we first examined this model. While there is little contention that the FAS system has solved our problems, it is important to judge whether these problems persist through failures of implementation or of concept—and the distinction raises temperatures and strains tempers. The first thesis—that the Department’s managers have failed to do what could have been done—variously suggests inefficiency and bad faith. Considering the pressures over the years for developing a personnel corps outside the Civil Service, and the incentives offered to accomplish this, it requires almost a devil theory to accept this conclusion without a test. In fact, there is a history of efforts to manipulate our various personnel procedures and standards to meet the single service objective as well, to be sure, as ideas which management has chosen not to test.

As we examined our experience in recruitment, career development, assignment and promotions, it has become clear that our efforts, and our manipulation, have often snagged on structural or human factors, most of which relate to service in Washington. The need for expertise or for management support at the headquarters often defies attempts to meld these into the processes or the dynamics of a worldwide system. Foreign Service evaluation systems do not fit the mold of the Washington-based specialist, nor do some other elements in managing his employment and career development. (These are further burdened by legal complexities, which are discussed below.) The human problems are perhaps best reflected in the fact that, despite the blandishments of enhanced retirement and increased salaries which give added substance to our exhortations, a substantial majority of our domestic officers remain in the Civil Service.

Most painfully, years of pressure for unification may have distracted us from strengthening our domestic skills, fostering instead both uncertainty as to our purposes and inexcusable neglect of valuable human assets.

As a second possibility, we have explored a model which takes account of the specific needs of the Department for domestic expertise and support services, while preserving the concept of a total service administered under the Foreign Service Act. This, for example, would build personnel procedures tailored to accommodate the distinctions between worldwide and domestic service. (These are discussed in detail in the attached study.) As we moved through this process, questions arose of the ability of the Foreign Service Act to cover some of the elements in a domestic career. Specifically, these include exemption [Page 536] from service abroad, exemption from selection out, which is often ill-fitted to a specialist career in Washington, use of rank-in-job promotion, and participation in the Foreign Service retirement system. I have asked L for its advice and have learned (Tab 2)10 that an attempt to use the authority of the Foreign Service Act to meet our essentially domestic requirements is unrealistic, since it would both require amendment to the Act and would lead to grievances and legal challenge. By and large, L sees these challenges as arising whether or not we declare the existence of a finite domestic category, as long as we have, in fact, groups of personnel whose careers are essentially domestic. (This judgment begs the question of how and why these flaws in the FAS concept were not exposed earlier. I understand that, possibly due to an earlier lack of definition of some of the central questions I addressed to L, its judgment had not been sought on these questions. When asked to evaluate the domestic (DES) concept in the 1960’s, L said that the Foreign Service Act would require amendment. This was not pursued.)

In light of the impact of the crucial difficulties exposed by L, our examination of the third model—one which uses Civil Service along with Foreign Service authority—is central to our analysis. Historically, the complexities of administering a Civil Service category, the question of flexibility, and the disadvantages of dualism were seen as arguments for seeking a separate Foreign Service system for the Department. Since the Department has for several years planned to phase out its Civil Service component, it has devoted less attention to management under this system. We have, therefore, had to carry out a detailed review with the Civil Service Commission of current practice in order to evaluate these earlier assumptions. We have also checked with two major systems (Air Force and Agriculture) for examples of actual practice. What emerges are indications both that practice has evolved significantly and that the Department has been guilty of serious, if understandable, shortcomings in its use of the system.

In examining Civil Service practice, we centered on recruitment, assignment and termination. We found that wide areas of management flexibility exist and that the notion that we must frequently check our actions with the Commission is far from the mark. Management is, of course, bound by legislation and regulations which set standards and prevent abuse, but there is a wide range of independence in administration and wide variety among agencies in how they operate. I have had wide-ranging discussions with senior officers of the Commission, who emphasized the Commission’s wish to work constructively with [Page 537] the Department if we resume use of the Civil Service authority at the officer level. This applies as well to the thorny problem of supergrades.11

We should look hard and without euphemism at the question of management flexibility, of which much has been argued over the years. On its face, an independent Department personnel system is not specifically bound by laws or regulations which are specific to the Civil Service system. What remains is only an obligation by the Department to abide by other legislation, legal or judicial precedent, regulations, and the dictates of personnel practice which is consistent with federal standards and the dictates of equity and competitiveness. Clearly, flexibility carried beyond that point is arbitrariness and can be self-defeating, since it would risk reactive legislation or legal action above and beyond morale problems within the system. In an increasingly litigious society, the protection of a broad federal system may compensate for some degree of lack of independence. In any event, and as I indicated above, there is a real question whether we have authority under our own legislation to run a domestic system, either avowed or implied.

There is a significant reminder in the just-issued report of the President’s Panel on Federal Compensation of the trend toward a regime in federal employment practice which will continue to erode areas of agency independence or flexibility. With specific reference to the Foreign Service pay system among others, the Panel recommended review of “the need for the many Federal civilian pay systems now in existence, with the objective of proposing legislation to eliminate or combine separate plans wherever appropriate.” We cannot afford to ignore the risk to the separate Foreign Service system if it is found to encompass categories of employees whose careers are in all major respects identical to those in other cabinet departments, including many groups, such as in AID, Commerce, Treasury or DOD, involved in our foreign relations and who are in the Civil Service.

As you know, I recognize and share your concern at any appearance of the Department’s abandoning a policy thrust which is said to have pervaded both dictate and practice for some years, or of returning to former policies which were unsuccessful. There are some straw men which litter this battleground and which need to be carried off. As I noted above, only three of six major studies between 1949 and 1975 mandated an all-Foreign Service system, and none since Hoover in [Page 538] 1949 proposed a single worldwide system, and even it excluded junior personnel. The landmark Wriston committee and two of the three most recent studies, including this year’s Murphy Commission, proposed a mixed Foreign Service/Civil Service system. The third, as expressed in the basic implementing document (Management Reform Bulletin No. 8),12 is equivocal in defining the system. As for worldwide service, it asserts that “as a general policy, officers . . . will normally be expected to serve some time abroad” (underlining added)13 and defined over 1000 officer positions as solely domestic. As for single service, it excluded the entire category of non-officer personnel.

In any event, the record both of past studies and of performance raises essential questions of ends and means. It should be clear from both that developing a personnel system which serves national policy is an end and that any notion of unity or flexibility is only a means which, as such, needs to be tested against itself and other factors to judge how it serves the end. I am fully satisfied that the concept of unity, at least when used to blur or weaken our ability to manage a strong, focussed domestic service which meets our needs in Washington, is seriously flawed. Beyond this, we need to ask whether a sense of unity or common purpose requires structural uniformity, or whether enlightened management of human resources cannot provide the sense of equality and shared participation, even in varied roles, which renders labels of less account. We should remind ourselves that we have robbed our Civil Service colleagues of a sense of a future in the institution, and that we have in many ways reminded them—as we have domestic FSR’s—that our central interest is in the worldwide Foreign Service.

To suggest this is to admit a failure of personnel administration and to recognize the work needed to remedy the failure. In this connection, I find no support for the argument that we are unable to manage a system which includes multiple categories, or even that it is less efficient. Quite apart from the examples in other agencies, I believe that personnel mechanisms built around clear and rational categories and based upon authority which is well-established and relevant can be managed effectively and free of the complexities which have dogged our recent effort to make a single authority serve varied needs.

In considering management of a mixed Foreign Service/Civil Service system, we need to assess the impact of such change in terms both of its effect on people’s careers and of their view of the change. First, we must define categories in an integrated system. The FSO corps would continue to play its present role. The FSR category would con [Page 539] tinue to serve for temporary appointments (and as staging for FSRU appointments unless we obtain legislative authority for direct appointment). The FSRU would continue to meet our worldwide non-FSO requirements including—just as with FSO’s—Washington positions related to the worldwide career. It is only in meeting our need for essentially domestic expertise and extended continuity of service where a unique Foreign Service requirement is sometimes not demonstrable that we would utilize the Civil Service. This arrangement would, thus, continue the FSRU category in considerable measure and is by no means an abandonment of the FAS concept as has been alleged.

By this definition, the impact on people in the Department’s system would not be widespread. Over 3,200 Civil Service personnel would simply find that they are now in a career category which suits our purposes. Many of our FSR/RU officers are properly serving in worldwide categories. Depending on analysis, between 400 and 550 are in such careers as would be in the Civil Service category (although they themselves may in some cases shift into worldwide service). Thus, the number of “anomalies” falls from over three thousand (our Civil Service people) to one-sixth that number (our domestic FSR/RU’s). I assume, in any event, that we would no more force conversion of the several hundred persons who might be out of phase than we have the far larger number of Civil Service personnel under current policy, and that they would have the option of conversion or continuation. We would insure, in any event, that no employee would be disadvantaged in any way as a result of having converted under the FAS program.

The reaction of individuals to change can only be estimated. Clearly the several thousand Civil Service people will see themselves benefitted, particularly if we demonstrate by action a renewed concern and intention to make them full participants in our work. The several hundred people who have converted under current policy and who will find themselves in a category unsuited to their career interests have a right both to a personal choice and to an explanation of our decision. For them, and for more general use in explaining our decision, there is a proposed statement attached at Tab 3.14

A decision affecting the central structure of our institution, in its essence, affects the way the institution operates. If we accept, as my memorandum of May 17 and others argue, that the institution’s needs are changing and have not always been well-defined or well-served, particularly in today’s complex diplomacy and in the increasing interrelationship of domestic and foreign policy, then we should not ignore the possible role of personnel structure. After lengthy study, I am con [Page 540] vinced of a need for change, and that change is both acceptable in kind and promising of results.

If you approve the expanded use of Civil Service authority, various steps toward implementation are required. These are discussed at Tab 415 and include several forms of consultation. While those consultations proceed, we would develop operating procedures and would expect, by the completion of consultations, to be ready to announce the change in necessary detail. We will, of course, be in close touch along the way.


That you approve re-establishment of a domestic category based upon the use of Civil Service authority, and that you authorize the preliminary steps toward implementation at Tab 4.

  1. Source: Department of State, Administrative Correspondence Files 1969–77, Policy and Procedural Files of the Deputy Under Secretary for Management: Lot 79 D 63, M Chron, March 1976 C. No classification marking. Printed from a copy that Laise did not initial. Laise sent a second copy of the memorandum to Eagleburger under a March 10, 1976, covering memorandum which indicates that her original memorandum was dated December 1975.
  2. See footnote 4, Document 143, and footnote 4, Document 144.
  3. Chaired by former President Herbert Hoover, the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government was created by Congress on July 7, 1947 (P.L. 162), and mandated to examine the organization and operation of the Executive branch. The Commission’s Task Force on Foreign Affairs, created in January 1948, published its findings on January 13, 1949, as Appendix H of the Commission’s final report. For the text, see The Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government, Task Force Report on Foreign Relations, Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1949.
  4. Transmitted to Secretary of State William P. Rogers in November 1970, Diplomacy for the 70’s: A Program of Management Reform for the Department of State was drafted by 13 separate task forces, each charged with studying a different aspect of the Department’s organizational and managerial problems. For a full account of the report’s compilation and dissemination, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. II, Organization and Management of Foreign Policy, 1969–1972, Document 312.
  5. The Committee on Foreign Affairs Personnel, chaired by former Secretary of State Christian A. Herter, issued its report in December 1962. For the text, see Committee on Foreign Affairs Personnel, Personnel for the New Diplomacy, Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1962. See also Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXXIII, Organization and Management of Foreign Policy; United Nations, Document 135.
  6. Brown University President Henry M. Wriston chaired the Public Committee on Personnel. Appointed in March 1954 by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Wriston was charged with studying the personnel systems of the Department and the Foreign Service. The Committee’s final report, presented to Dulles on May 18, 1954, recommended the amalgamation of the Civil and Foreign Services into a single personnel system. For the text, see Public Committee on Personnel, Toward a Stronger Foreign Service, Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1954. The text of AFSA’s study is in the Foreign Service Journal, Vol. 45, no. 11, part II, November 1968. This followed an earlier report produced by the AFSA Career Principals Committee in November 1967 that called for a “reexamination” of the career services required by the Department and the Foreign Service to fulfill their roles in the “overall ‘foreign affairs community.’” See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXXIII, Organization and Management of U.S. Foreign Policy; United Nations, Document 128. For the Murphy Commission report, see Document 147.
  7. Document 143.
  8. Not found attached.
  9. Although about 1800 Civil Service and 1200 Foreign Service Staff personnel are not provided for, and over 1000 officers would be in the domestic category. [Footnote in the original.]
  10. Department of State Legal Adviser Monroe Leigh’s December 22, 1975, memorandum to Laise is attached but not printed.
  11. We have discussed the supergrade question with senior officials of the Commission and, while there is no way they can make commitments until we approach them with concrete word of our intentions and requirements, I feel I have grounds for confidence that the Commission will not frustrate our effort to build a full career GS system with adequate room at the top. [Footnote in the original.]
  12. Not found.
  13. Printed here in italics.
  14. Attached but not printed. No statement, as issued, has been found.
  15. Not found attached.