174. Airgram From the Department of State to All Diplomatic and Consular Posts1



  • Proposed Foreign Service Act of 1979

On June 20, 1979 the Secretary submitted the proposed Foreign Service Act of 1979 to the Congress. He and Under Secretary Read testified in support of the Bill on June 21.

This Airgram forwards for your information a copy of the following documents:

1) The Secretary’s letter transmitting the Bill to Congress;

2) The Secretary’s testimony;

3) Under Secretary Read’s testimony.2

In the near future, you will be sent a series of questions and answers on the Bill, a summary analysis of the legislation, a section by section analysis of the proposal and the Bill itself compared to existing legislation.3



Letter From Secretary of State Vance to the President of the Senate (Mondale)4

Dear Mr. President:

I transmit herewith on behalf of the Administration a Bill to promote the foreign policy of the United States by strengthening and [Page 694] improving the Foreign Service of the United States and for other purposes.

The Congress took a major step last year to improve the management and efficiency of the federal service by enacting the Civil Service Reform Act. This Bill is a companion measure to increase the effectiveness of the foreign policy arm of the government. It also responds to a Congressional directive (Sec. 117 of PL 94–350) to prepare a “comprehensive plan for the improvement and simplification” of the personnel systems of the Department of State and the United States International Communication Agency (previously the United States Information Agency). In addition, the Bill contemplates use of the Foreign Service personnel system by the proposed new International Development Cooperation Agency.

The last comprehensive Foreign Service personnel legislation was the Foreign Service Act of 1946. The need is clear, after more than three decades, for substantial legislative changes to strengthen and improve the Foreign Service to enable it to fulfill its essential role and mission now and in the years ahead.

I believe that this new Foreign Service Act is needed:

—to provide a clear distinction between Foreign Service and Civil Service employment, and to convert to Civil Service status without loss those Foreign Service personnel who are obligated and needed only for domestic service;

—to improve efficiency and economy by simplifying and rationalizing the various categories of Foreign Service personnel and by establishing a single Foreign Service salary schedule;

—to establish a Senior Foreign Service (SFS) with rigorous entry, promotion and retention standards based on performance, with performance pay for outstanding service;

—to make more uniform the statutory terms and conditions of Foreign Service employment based on merit principles;

—to provide a statutory basis for labor-management relations in the Foreign Service;

—to consolidate and codify the various laws relating to Foreign Service personnel which have been enacted both within and outside the framework of the existing Foreign Service Act;

—to improve interagency coordination by promoting compatibility among the personnel systems of the agencies employing Foreign Service personnel and with those of other departments and agencies.

I am confident the Congress will agree that it is in the national interest to maintain and strengthen a professional Foreign Service, representative of the American people, to assist the President and the Secretary of State in managing the country’s foreign relations.

[Page 695]

I believe this Bill strengthens the professional character of the Foreign Service of the United States by:

(1) limiting Service status to those who accept its discipline including the obligation to serve anywhere in the world often under dangerous or unhealthy circumstances;

(2) requiring that all persons seeking career status pass successfully through a strict but fair tenuring process; and

(3) establishing closer links between performance and promotion, compensation and incentive payments, and retention in Service.

The Bill will also improve the management of the Foreign Service and promote economy and efficiency by reducing the number of personnel categories under a single pay schedule, establishing a Senior Foreign Service comparable to the Senior Executive Service of the Civil Service, and by encouraging interchange and maximum compatibility of personnel systems among the foreign affairs agencies.

The Bill has been the subject of extensive consultations. Its provisions reflect comments and suggestions which have been received from the members of the Foreign Service and the employee organizations which represent them, and from interested agencies within the Executive Branch.

The Bill is divided into two titles. Title I, made up of twelve chapters, is the Foreign Service Act of 1979, a permanent body of law concerning the Foreign Service personnel system. Title II consists of transitional and technical provisions, and amendments to and repeals of other laws.

The Office of Management and Budget has advised that enactment of this legislation would be consistent with the Administration’s objectives.5


Cyrus Vance
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Under Secretary for Management (M), 1978–1979, Box 7, Chron June 24–30, 1979. Unclassified. Drafted by Dwight Mason (M) on June 22; approved by Read.
  2. Both Vance’s and Read’s testimonies are attached but not printed. They testified before the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committees. See “Vance Unveils Proposals To Alter Foreign Service,” Washington Post, June 22, 1979, p. A3.
  3. Telegram 170775 to all diplomatic and consular posts, July 1, “Summary Analysis of the Proposed Foreign Service Act 1979,” is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, 1979.
  4. No classification marking.
  5. On June 28 Fascell introduced H.R. 4674 in the House where it was referred to the Foreign Affairs and Post Office and Civil Service Committees. On July 9 Church introduced S. 1450 in the Senate where it was referred to the Foreign Relations Committee.