177. Memorandum From the Inspector General of the Department of State and the Foreign Service (Brewster) to the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Personnel (Barnes)1


  • Proposed Criteria for the Senior Threshold

I have read your paper proposing certain standards for “Eligibility for Senior Foreign Service Threshold Selection Board Review.”2 I have some comments to make on both the concept of the paper and some of the particular points that have been included.

I wonder if a list of “ticket-punching” requirements throughout one’s career is the approach we really want to take to this issue. The contact that we have had with the military and its “ticket-punching” system leaves the impression that it can develop serious negative aspects. Over a period of time, the street-wise begin to attach the criteria to a time-frame, and some of the criteria acquire reputations as better “punches” than others. The competition for these better assignments becomes intense. One of the unfortunate side effects in the military system is that perfectly bright and capable officers who perceive that they have missed out in early competition tend to quit trying and begin to look forward to retirement at the earliest possible time. The Foreign Service Corps is admittedly smaller and, presumably, more manageable than the military, but I think a “ticket-punching” list of criteria will require constant watching and management or it will get out of hand. Do we want to undertake this additional task given the already rapidly changing personnel scene at State?

The second problem is that once you develop a list of criteria for the “ticket-punching” system, you are in effect committed to maintaining those criteria for a long time—at least long enough to protect those who believe the system and undertake to acquire the appropriate punches. The list of criteria you propose seems to meet many current concerns of the Department personnel system, e.g., EEO training, staffing the hard-to-staff hardship posts, building the Service’s language [Page 703] capabilities, out-of-agency assignments. Will these still be our same concerns ten or twenty years from now?

The proposed list of criteria also could be read as an attempt to solve the Department’s immediate assignment concerns by inducing officers to volunteer for assignments that cannot be filled due to the deterioration of service discipline. FSO’s in the junior and mid-grades may well tend to read it this way.

The criteria and the underlying concept seem biased in favor of political and economic cone officers. The second paragraph of the covering concept paper sets aside the most meaningful SFS positions for those who meet the “multi-functional requirements.” As Tom Tracy and others indicated when the PPG discussed the original idea, it is generally easier for political and economic cone officers to obtain out-of-cone experiences than it is for those in the perenially short-handed administrative and consular cones, especially those who are particularly good managers (the very ones we should be seeking).

The “Tentative List of Functional Fields” needs to be defined more precisely. What is meant by “engineering,” “arts,” “archival science” and “legal affairs?” Are these truly Foreign Service functions, or are they domestic service functions? “Hardship” posts also needs to be defined better, i.e., are Manila and Bangkok both ranked the same since both receive differentials?

A major drawback to the list of criteria is that very few of the mandatory items will, of themselves, demonstrate that the candidates for the SFS have acquired the requisite executive and leadership capabilities. Linguistic proficiency, assignments in hardship posts and long-term training are all desirable, but do not guarantee that the candidate has acquired the desired managerial skills. The only current criteria directly tied to management and supervision are points 1 and 2 under B. At some time, SFS candidates should be required to have demonstrated successful supervision or management of resources. We think this should be a Mandatory Requirement.

Could not the SFS threshold be approached in the same basic manner as the career candidate threshold? There could be special evaluations by supervisors of candidates that focus on the ability of the candidate to function as a program manager. Criteria or precepts should be developed that indicate future potential as a senior executive. These should be considered and ranked by a threshold board, perhaps also with an in-person appearance by the candidate. Once the board certifies the candidate for passing the threshold, the candidate can compete for future assignments that will actually bring him or her into the SFS. This would seem to avoid the dangers inherent in pegging SFS threshold criteria (and future Department concerns) to a check sheet which the officer has to begin considering from the day he or she enters the Foreign Service.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Under Secretary for Management (M), 1980, Box 1, Chron January 29–31, 1980. No classification marking. Drafted by Donald Colin (S/IG). Copies were sent to Read, Thomas Tracy (A), Roger Feldman (M/COMP), and Gifford Malone (M/MO).
  2. Not found.