161. Memorandum From the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Personnel (Barnes) to Secretary of State Vance1

Your Meeting with the FSO Group


You have agreed to meet with a small group of FSOs2 who represent the 500-some officers who signed a letter (attached) expressing concern over the state of the Service.

This is a serious group. It came together spontaneously. Originally there were 46 signers, mostly mid-level officers, many of whom work on the sixth and seventh floors and are highly regarded.

The total list of signatures is generally representative of all four cones.3 Among them are Ambassadors, Deputy Assistant Secretaries and The President of the Consular Officers Association. A high proportion of women and some minorities signed. No effort was made to gather signers from overseas although some signatures emerged from the Asian Chiefs of Mission meeting.4

The group has taken care to proceed as responsibly as possible. They provided your office with an advance copy of the letter on December 285 before opening it to wider endorsement. They sought to prevent leaks to the press and none have occurred. Their approach is positive and supportive, not confrontational.

Who Will Attend

We do not know exactly whom the group will select to meet with you, but some or most of these core members will be there:

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Ken Quinn Special Assistant to Dick Holbrooke
Alan Romberg Policy Planning Staff
Adrienne Stefan EUR/Soviet Affairs
Jim Shinn Special Assistant to George Vest
Judy Kaufmann Staff Assistant, EUR
Ann Darbyshire Secretariat Staff

The group is not connected with AFSA (although they have expressed a readiness to work with AFSA after meeting with you). An AFSA representative—probably President Lars Hydle—has been invited to attend as an observer. Because AFSA is not fully involved, the group understands that it would not be appropriate for them to ask you to make any commitments on specific personnel policies or procedures.

The Group’s Concerns

First, and most fundamentally, the group fears that the basic principles and practices of the Foreign Service—as defined and envisioned by the Congress in the Foreign Service Act of 19466—are endangered. They point to the decision of the court in Bradley v. Vance 7 that found no meaningful difference between a Foreign Service career and domestic Civil Service employment. And they fear that Congressional or Administration proposals on personnel reorganization designed to deal with the vast Federal bureaucracy might, without intending to, do lasting damage to the Foreign Service.

Second, they believe that a variety of problems inside the Foreign Service system—promotions, assignments, selection-out8—could, if not attended to, lead to stagnation, impairing the ability of the Service to perform its mission effectively.

Although the group probably will want to review a range of such specific problems with you, they are not looking for quick fixes; they know, for example, that traditional promotion rates may never be fully restored.

They hope the meeting will result in:

—Your endorsement of the Foreign Service and its underlying principles. This may include their asking you to speak on behalf of the Service to the President or leaders of Congress if necessary and to the extent you feel able.

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—Your approval of an ongoing effort involving members of the group with the management of the Department and AFSA to address some of the specific issues in a comprehensive manner.

Talking Points

Since the group representatives are prepared to speak first, I suggest you let them make all their points before responding.

You may wish to make these points in response:

—You recognize and place a high value on the quality and commitment of the Foreign Service. There is no doubt of the nation’s need for the institution. You are committed to do all you can to ensure that the Service is staffed and managed so that it can effectively carry out its responsibilities.

—No one should doubt, however, that we are in a period of considerable social and organizational change. The Foreign Service must expect to be affected by, and respond to, these changes. (Although they used the word “quotas” at one point in their letter as an element that troubled them, we believe their legitimate concerns are much wider.)

—You are determined to do what is necessary in both regards: to ensure that the Service does not lag behind when change is needed—and to defend the fundamental principles without which the Service cannot do its job. In this last regard you are personally involved in the effort to appeal the Bradley vs. Vance decision and have followed the deliberations at Justice closely. You are pleased to report that the lawyer assigned to the case has recommended to the Solicitor General that he file the appeal.

—It is easy to agree with principles articulated in the group’s letter; in fact, hard to take issue with any. But it’s another thing to find sensible steps to ameliorate the situation, and you hope they will develop more specific suggestions.

—In this regard, the Department’s management has been and will continue to work with AFSA on most of the specific problems and questions underlying the general issues expressed in their letter. We regard it as essential that we continue to work with AFSA in this way. Your view and concerns on the issues you have raised are important to both AFSA and management.

—There are basic recognitions that we all share: The importance of the Foreign Service and the need to both preserve and improve it; the need to ensure that our various policy goals do not work at cross-purposes and are capable of being soundly implemented; and the indispensable requirement of greater participation and communication among all those who are committed to the Service and to solving its problems.

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—The fact that such a group as this has formed and come forward is a positive sign. You value their ideas and hope they will reinforce AFSA’s efforts with the Department.


Letter From 93 Foreign Service Officers to Secretary of State Vance9

Dear Mr. Secretary:

We, as Foreign Service Officers, are gravely troubled by what is happening to the Foreign Service. We support and admire your efforts to deal with the many vital and complex foreign policy challenges facing this nation, and we hesitate to impose on you with yet another problem. But we believe your personal involvement is required to forestall a serious decline in the Service as an important national institution.

Recent legal, managerial, and political decisions, taken in a setting of extensive social change, have exacerbated our own long-standing organizational problems. Many of the societal forces for change are overdue and welcome. And many of the individual decisions are admirable. But too often these decisions have been taken in isolation without regard to their cumulative, long-term impact. Together they are undermining the Service’s dedication to excellence and the merit principle, so that they now threaten the ability of the Service to assist you and the President effectively in the formulation and conduct of our foreign policy.

Mr. Secretary, the Service is now seized with speculation and serious concern about the consequences of the specific policies that will be adopted with respect to such issues as: retirement, outside appointments, non-competitive entry, assignments, promotions, quotas, ceilings, position cuts. This has led to:

—declining pride and commitment, as the principles of entry and advancement by merit are progressively eroded—while officers who have not proven to be competitive or able to maintain their motivation with the years are offered ever-easier methods to remain on the rolls;

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—slackened dedication and application, owing to the perception that the Foreign Service is neither informed of, nor involved in, important decisions affecting its future;

—stagnation and reduction in incentives to superior performance, as upward movement through the system to positions of increasing responsibility has slowed drastically, resulting in fewer opportunities for substantive contribution or advancement, less recognition of achievement, and fewer financial rewards.

If these impediments to individual achievement and institutional vigor are left uncorrected, the effect could be devastating. Already too many of our best colleagues are looking for opportunities outside the Service, while more and more of those who elect to stay are seeking less demanding jobs, having seen that the relationship between extra effort and the rewards of the system appears increasingly haphazard.

In order to provide the nation with the most energetic, mobile, high-quality, professional Foreign Service possible, the Foreign Service Act called for special disciplines, recruitment and rapid promotion of the most able, selection-out based on time-in-grade or poor performance, worldwide availability and honorable early retirement.

Mr. Secretary, we ask for a renewed commitment to the principles of the Foreign Service Act, which sought to create a Service based on merit, devoted to excellence, and dedicated to the effective conduct of the foreign policy of the United States. We believe that revitalization of these precepts is the indispensable first step in restoring a sense of purpose and forward movement to our institution—and in furthering positive, long-term change.

We stand ready to work with you to help develop concrete proposals to solve the problems we have raised and to restore the Foreign Service to the condition the interests of the nation demand.


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Kenneth M. Quinn James W. Shinn Darryl N. Johnson
Alan D. Romberg Thomas Macklin J. Stapleton Roy
James F. Dobbins, Jr. Stephanie Smith Kinney David G. Brown
Ints M. Silins Charles Hill John P. Leonard
Kang S. Huang J. A. Allitto Ann Swift
Dennis Goodman Richard E. Hecklinger George E. Moose
Alvin P. Adams, Jr. Arthur L. Kobler George P. Fourier
Barbara Schrage Charles W. Freeman, Jr. Jane E. Becker
Adrienne Stefan Barbara Bodine Ann Darbyshire
Michael Sternberg Judith R. Kaufmann David Kenney
Carol Kay Stocker Jane Coon Timothy M. Carney
Wesley H. Parsons Douglas S. Kinney Michael J. Mercurio
Thomas J. Miller Kenneth W. Bleakley John D. Forbes
Alan S. Hegburg David L. Schiele Lionel A. Rosenblatt
Paul E. Barbian Paul W. Hilburn Richard J. Harrington
David Blakemore

[Omitted here are 47 additional signatures.]

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Under Secretary for Management (M), 1977–1978, Box 8, Chron January 1978. No classification marking. Sent through Read. An unknown hand initialed the memorandum on Barnes’s behalf.
  2. No minutes of this meeting were found.
  3. Cones are Foreign Service career tracks that must be designated at the time the Foreign Service exam is taken. The four cones are consular, diplomatic, economic, and management.
  4. Held January 5–6 in Hong Kong.
  5. Not found.
  6. P.L. 79–724.
  7. Bradley v. Vance, 436 F.Supp. 134 (D.D.C. 1977).
  8. The Foreign Service Act of 1946 instituted a “selection out” process, in which Foreign Service officers who failed to be promoted within a prescribed amount of time were forced out of the Foreign Service.
  9. No classification marking.