214. Memorandum From the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Personnel (Barnes) and the Special Assistant to the Legal Adviser (Vilaplana) to the Under Secretary of State for Management (Read)1


  • Report on Progress Towards Developing a Method to Combine Junior Officer Level Affirmative Action and Regular Registers

Until the Supreme Court speaks further on the subject, all affirmative action programs will be tested by comparison to Bakke.2 The program struck down in Bakke was a program voluntarily adopted by the faculty of the UC Davis medical school. The program established a fixed number of places in the medical school from which non-minorities were excluded. It was not intended to remedy specific, identifiable [Page 890] discrimination, nor were there any legislative, judicial or administrative findings of past discrimination.

In discussing the UC Davis program, the Court criticized the “two-track” format, i.e., two independent and unrelated selection procedures, one for affirmative action applicants, one for everyone else.

The Department’s affirmative action program is in most significant respects different from the program at UC Davis. Nevertheless, at a meeting occasioned in part by a Chicago Tribune article on the Department’s program,3 you asked that we look into whether a method could be devised to combine the junior level affirmative action for the purpose of enhancing the Department’s program’s legal survivability, particularly in light of Bakke. This memorandum briefly reviews existing procedures and describes a possible method for register integration.


A. Regular Process

The FSO selection process for the 1977–78 hiring cycle consists of five separate elements, the written exam, the essay, the oral exam, the in-basket test, and the suitability rating:

1. The Written Exam

The written examination was given in December 1977. Approximately 18,000 individuals applied to take the exam, 11,500 actually took it, and about 2,400 scored above the cut-off score. The cut-off score varies from year to year. It is set by the State Department and the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to “pass” the number of candidates which, given expected attrition and failure at subsequent stages, will yield the number of FSO candidates necessary to meet the needs of the Service.

2. The Essay

The essay is taken at the same time as the written exam. It is scored by ETS and the score is reported as a separate item to the Department. While the essay score is reported prior to inviting candidates to the oral exam it has no bearing on whether a candidate is invited.

3. The Oral Exam

The oral exam (which is given in Washington and in several other major cities) is a one hour examination by a panel of three Foreign Service officers. Although a score of 75 is passing, it was determined [Page 891] this year that a score of 80 would be necessary to remain “competitive” and to justify the expense of a security investigation and a medical examination. Approximately 35 percent of those who took the oral exam passed (i.e., scored 75 or higher). However, approximately 250 passers were found non-competitive. The oral is scored on the spot and the candidate is immediately informed about the result.

4. The In-Basket Test

If determined to be “competitive” after the oral, the candidate is given an “in-basket” test of managerial and organizational skills.

5. The Suitability Rating

All information gathered during the entire process for those who have received medical and security clearances is reviewed by a Final Review Panel. The Panel, made up of four individuals, awards each candidate a score reflecting background, suitability and other intangible factors.

B. Weighting the Scores

Each of the five elements is weighted. The weights have been determined by BEX in consultation with a number of individuals including Foreign Service officers concerning the relevance of each of the five elements to the abilities necessary as a Foreign Service officer. The written exam is given a weight of 24, the oral exam 36, the essay 8, the in-basket 8, and the suitability rating of each member of the Final Review Panel 6. The candidate’s score on each element (or sub-element in the case of the suitability rating) is multiplied by the weighting factor, the products are added, and the sum is divided by 100 to arrive at an overall score.

Based on that score, each candidate is ranked on a register for one of the four cones: administrative, consular, economic, and political. FCA/JO determines the register on which individual candidates are placed.

C. Minority Performance in Regular Process

Of 27 minority individuals who “passed” (approximately 1,800 took the exam) the December 1977 written exam and were invited to take the oral, 15 passed the oral (i.e., scored above 75), but 7 were informed that they were non-competitive because they scored below 80. These individuals, however, were further informed that they could apply as EEO applicants and thereby be placed on the separate EEO registers with the strong likelihood that they would be offered an EEO appointment. Such an appointment is, of course, conditional and requires taking and passing a second lateral entry oral exam not sooner than three but not later than five years after entering on duty.

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D. Affirmative Action Process

The procedures for evaluating EEO candidates vary in two respects. First, EEO candidates are not required to take or pass the written exam. A college degree is accepted as proof of background knowledge and in lieu of a “passing” score on the written exam. Second, deficiencies noted during the oral may be mitigated if, in the judgment of the examiners, the candidate otherwise manifests strong potential. EEO candidates are ranked on separate EEO registers for one of the four cones.

E. Changes for 1978–79 Cycle

Beginning with the 1978–79 hiring cycle, the one hour oral exam will be replaced by a full-day assessment process. The process will be used for both EEO and regular applicants. Each applicant will participate in various exercises during the assessment including an in-basket test, a personal inventory, a one-on-one interview, an individual presentation, and a leaderless group discussion. Each applicant will be observed during the day by each of three assessors chosen from among BEX deputy examiners. A final decision on an applicant’s continued competitiveness will be based on the combined judgment of the three assessors. That judgment will be reflected in a numerical score (the final weighting scheme has not yet been determined, but it is likely that the weight for the assessment process will be approximately equal to the present combined weights of the oral exam and the in-basket test, i.e., 42). In all other respects the 1978–79 hiring process will be identical to the 1977–78 process.


At least three methods of combining the BEX and the EEO registers have been suggested. First, we could require written exams of all applicants and attempt to devise a formula which would reduce any cultural bias in the exam to permit fair comparison between minority and non-minority test scores. Second, we could, similar to the Harvard plan,4 conduct deep background evaluations which would permit us to factor in highly personal information such as place of origin, race and other unique attributes. Finally, we could devise a method to award EEO applicants a proxy written exam score based on performance of some type, e.g., college. Because of practical and theoretical limitations, the last method appears at this stage the most workable.

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A. Written Test Score Comparability

It is technically impossible to define cultural bias in a way that would result in a formula which would eliminate or reduce the cultural bias reflected in the written exam score. While statistical techniques exist which make it possible to fairly compare results of certain tests as between minority and non-minority test takers, our situation does not lend itself to their use. Such statistical techniques require a broad range of scores. The FSO selection program is so selective that we have a very narrow range of scores. Virtually everyone is excellent or outstanding.

There are other statistical preconditions which underlie methods to equate or enhance the comparability of test scores between different populations and which are also absent in our case.

B. Deep Background

Another suggestion has been that we ask candidates who achieve a threshold score in the written examination to submit extensive biographical, personal and vocational interest information. Such information would include, for example, work experience, an essay, transcripts, evidence of achievement in extra-curricular activities, references, writing samples, and personal interest information. A grading scheme could be devised based on job analyses and the knowledge content areas which such analyses indicate are substantially related to the job.

While the actual scheme could be determined only after careful study, it would be similar to that used by the Final Review Panel process in the 1977–78 cycle. Deputy examiners, testing specialists, and consultants would be asked to use their best judgments in determining the relative importance of various knowledge content areas, and values would be assigned according to those judgments. In addition, values would be assigned to activities within a knowledge content area reflecting the degree of reliability of the activity as an indicator of competence within the area. While a transcript, for example, would indicate that a candidate had taken economics courses and had therefore had the opportunity to acquire knowledge in this area, satisfactory work experience in the area of economics would indicate that the candidate had acquired such knowledge. Work experience would therefore be given a higher value than a transcript item. Similarly, extra-curricular activities might be more indicative of interpersonal skills than personal interest information.

Based on such a deep background evaluation, we could invite candidates for further examination. This would certainly give us more flexibility in determining the make-up of our junior officer classes. It would also, however, subject us to increased pressure to hire a particular candidate. In addition, this technique has special merit where a geographic, racial, or ethnic mix has unusual importance; it is not [Page 894] entirely clear that the first amendment value of diversity which the Supreme Court in Bakke recognized as compelling in an academic setting, would be found to be equally compelling in an employment context.

Moreover, there is the practical problem of the workload imposed by such deep background evaluations. The task of sifting through all this additional information would be staggering.

C. Proxy Score

We have developed a procedure which may allow us to place minority candidates on integrated registers in positions which would make them competitive with non-minority candidates. The procedure is experimental and our conclusions tentative.

Essentially, this method consists of assigning a “proxy” score for the written examination based on an evaluation of the candidate’s college transcript and work experience. The “proxy” score is assigned by the BEX Testing and Evaluation Specialist on the basis of job analyses.

Twenty knowledge content elements were identified by the job analyses as relevant. The elements include such subjects as American history, world history, macroeconomic theory, international business, and other general subjects. In evaluating each candidate, the candidate’s college degree is assigned the score of 70. Each knowledge content element in the candidate’s dossier is assigned a value of 1.5. An individual with a college degree and with all 20 content elements would receive a score of 100.

It appears that this method is compatible with the Department’s affirmative action goals.


We will analyze further the feasibility and appropriateness of each of these methods of integrating the registers. We will report to you in the near future the results of these analyses, and if justified, submit specific recommendations.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Under Secretary for Management (M), 1978–1979, Box 4, Chron November 29–December 4, 1978. No classification marking. Drafted by William B. Owen (REE/EXAM/BEX) and Vilaplana; cleared by Lee Marks (L). Printed from an unsigned copy.
  2. Reference to Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978). See footnote 7, Document 194. The Supreme Court’s decision was announced on June 28. The Court upheld affirmative action but ruled that specific quotas were impermissible.
  3. See Raymond Coffey, “Discontent Grows: Reverse Bias Hiring in State Dept. Hit,” Chicago Tribune, September 3, 1978, p. 1.
  4. Harvard filed an amicus curiae brief in the Bakke case, setting forth its plan that used race as just one of many factors in its review of applicants to encourage diversity.