162. Memorandum From the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Personnel (Barnes) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Management (Read)1
- Reluctance to Take Assignments
Reluctance on the part of Foreign Service personnel to accept the assignments offered or proposed to them has probably grown in recent years, but it is still a problem of modest and manageable dimensions if one views the Service as a whole. It is only one factor in the assignment equation and, with few exceptions, does not seriously impede the assignment process. An analysis of the various causes of the “reluctance factor” is attached.
The basic question is how much effort we need to put into the business of assigning employees to jobs that are not only appropriate (in terms of grade, qualifications, experience, etc.) but which more or less satisfy the employees’ personal and professional desires as well. There is no doubt that assignments could be made more expeditiously if we paid attention solely or primarily to the needs of the Service. But such assignments, made with little prior consultation and without taking into consideration all the relevant factors as seen by the employee, would certainly result in greater discontent, more broken assignments, expensive transfers, etc.—in other words, significant inefficiencies as a (delayed) consequence of greater efficiency in the assignment process itself.
The “open assignments” system makes the employee more fully a part of the assignments process and provides a technique for overcoming the reluctance factor. In some cases it entails significant prior consul[Page 627]tation between counselors and employees. Occasionally it means that the employee, after lengthy discussions, has to be brought to realize that the available options are very limited, that his top choices are simply not available, and that he must reduce his expectations. This approach is particularly important now, given the congested conditions in the Service which most employees are aware of in general terms but which they do not understand in detail and in all their implications.
Statistics are not fully available but we believe our record for assignments kept is markedly better under “open assignments” than under previous systems. Further evidence of success is that by the end of the assignment cycle we have made very few forced placements and there are virtually no unassigned employees in the staff and officer corps up through the intermediate grades. (The senior problem is of course compounded by a surplus of officers over positions.)
Not surprisingly, reluctance tends to be a more serious problem in areas where career structure seems deficient and where promotion opportunities and new and more challenging jobs appear to be lacking. This relates specifically to certain classes of staff employees. However, as the Service profile lengthens and promotions become less frequent, the reluctance factor could come to affect officer placements more adversely. At present, officer “reluctance” is as often fed by competing opportunities or by overly solicitous supervisors as it is by unrealistic expectations on the part of officers.
In short, this problem is one of many we grapple with in making assignments but one we believe “open assignments” and other techniques keep within manageable dimensions.
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Under Secretary for Management (M), 1977–1978, Box 9, Chron April 1978. No classification marking.↩
- No classification marking.↩
- The Pearson program was the Department of State’s domestic assignment program that aimed to broaden a Foreign Service officer’s skills by temporarily assigning him/her to work for a member of Congress or a congressional committee.↩
- No classification marking.↩