183. Statement by the Under Secretary of State for Management (Read)1


The purpose of this meeting today is your questions not our orations. But as a fellow with only 12 more days of assured job security ahead2 and somebody who has invested a fair amount of time and passion in what we’ve brought to life here, I want to ask your indulgence to let me look back to start with because it has been an extraordinary process.

Every Washington critic knows that the last day of Congress shortly before a closely contested Presidential election is not the time to expect final passage of a complex 250-page bill to provide a long-term charter for an essential but relatively small and not uncontroversial arm of the Federal establishment.

Particularly so when that arm is normally perceived as not having its own natural domestic constituency. All the more so when the meas[Page 733]ure must have strong bipartisan support to survive, and final passage requires reversal of positions taken earlier by both House and Senate on recorded roll call votes. It’s not exactly a winning combination. But that’s what happened and happened by large majorities in both chambers.

And last Friday, October 17, President Carter signed into law the Foreign Service Act of 1980, which is now 96–465. The President said that he took great pride in signing the measure. “It is a modern charter well designed to meet the needs of the dedicated, able men and women of the Foreign Service of the United States in the decade ahead”.3

Indeed it is and indeed you are. And many people, here and elsewhere, can share that sense of pride if we will be permitted to indulge it just for a moment.

In a time of wide disillusionment with Government and politics, this legislation represents a classic illustration, in my view, of constructive Foreign Service, Departmental, Executive and Legislative Branch actions in the public interest.

I was asked by a friend just last weekend if I had to rate the Foreign Service Act on a scale of 1 to 100 in terms of what came out compared to what went in 16 months ago, what score I would give it. And I said I would give it a score of 150 because it came out a great deal better than it went in. And that doesn’t often happen, as you well know.

For that, primary thanks are due to many of you in this room and to some extraordinarily gifted legislators who are staunch friends of this Service: Dante Fascell, John Buchanan, Pat Schroeder, Jim Leach; on the Senate side, Claiborne Pell, Chuck Percy, just to mention a few, and their talented committee and personal staff members who spent literally hundreds of hours on this measure.

They, in turn, received much wider support. And several times Secretary Muskie lent powerful assistance in helping us break through that September-October scheduling log jam and on many other occasions as did former Secretaries Vance and Kissinger from the earliest stages.

And the bill that was introduced was itself vastly improved over the initial plans approved by Secretary Vance just about two years ago at this time by a strenuous eight-month participatory process of debate and exchange in which everyone on this platform and many members of the Service in Washington and all posts engaged with gusto and with remarkable goodwill and good humor.

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The whole effort, I think it’s fair to say, became a truly impressive and, perhaps, unique Foreign Service community-wide enterprise.

In my view, the institutional and individual gains contained in this legislation are of basic and equal importance. Let me only refer to some essentials.

For the institution, the Act:

—resolves a debilitating 30-year dispute by its acceptance of and clear distinctions based on availability for worldwide service between the Department’s dual Foreign Service/Civil Service systems to the benefit of both;

—links recruitment, tenure, advancement, pay and retention in the Foreign Service more closely than ever before to performance as determined by impartial public and private selection boards for all members of the Service following periods of transition from the most senior to the most junior, regardless of specific roles and occupations;

—directs the institution forthwith to institute improved and comprehensive professional training and development programs for all members of the Service and their families;

—facilitates sound management by simplification of our personnel system which had become grotesquely complex over the years;

—marks a significant turn from the organizational fragmentation that has occurred during recent and not so recent years to greater compatibility among the Foreign Affairs agencies under a new codified common body of law; and, finally,

—makes it more likely that the Service, with the vital new legislated reward and support systems, will continue to be able to staff the country’s overseas missions in the years ahead even under increasingly adverse and stressful external circumstances.

For individuals, the Act:

—places labor-management relations for the first time on solid statutory grounds;

—eliminates many of the arbitrary old inequitable and invidious distinctions between personnel categories in this gifted community;

—includes important enhancement of merit principles and restatement of them and safeguards against personnel abuses and politicization;

—sets new pacemaking standards for equal opportunity and affirmative action to help achieve a Service truly representative of the American people;

—recognizes in tangible form the uniquely important role of Foreign Service families; and, finally,

—provides a large measure, long overdue, of pay comparability and authorizes important new allowances.

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No legislation can be a panacea for all our complex institutional and individual problems, and this is no exception. It was never intended to be. And no legislation is better than its implementation.

Much work has been done to prepare for full implementation of this Act by next February 15. And we are prepared to discuss those steps today. But much, much more remains to be done.

We want to ensure the widest possible Foreign Service involvement in that process because it will set important precedents for the future. There will be differences of view, of course. But we should approach them, I hope and urge, with the same spirit of openness and cooperation that has marked this endeavor.

For this new law gives all of us, managers and employee representatives alike, a very rare opportunity, only the third in this century. If we, and our successors on both sides, have the wits and the diligence, and it’s going to take both to implement this law wisely and in the national interest, it will greatly strengthen a proud and essential profession, the Foreign Service of the United States. Thank you.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Under Secretary for Management (M), 1980, Box 7, Chron October 20–25, 1980. No classification marking. Read spoke at an open meeting for Department of State employees in the Dean Acheson Auditorium. (Department of State Newsletter, November 1980, p. 2)
  2. Reference to the November 4 Presidential election.
  3. For Carter’s signing statement, see Public Papers: Carter , 1980–81, Book III, pp. 2328–2329.