Chapter 7. Stability and Change

Ask a member of the foreign service about the work, and it won’t be long before you hear something like this: “Where else can you reinvent yourself every two or three years? There’s always a different job, boss, country, or culture just ahead. You change posts, and you walk into the middle of a new adventure.”

Change is only part of the story. Foreign service people don’t talk much about it, but most of them take comfort in the stable framework that surrounds and cushions the constant change of foreign service life. That framework is the structure of a foreign service career, with its hierarchies and formalities; annual evaluations, periodic training, competitive promotions, regional and functional specialization, rotation through a variety of posts, and rising levels of responsibility, pay, and status. Retirement, which can come as early as age fifty with twenty years of service, is generous. So are health benefits. There are moving allowances, housing allowances, education allowances, hardship allowances, and other benefits, along with a reliable salary that keeps foreign service families comfortably in America’s middle class. That, along with their diplomatic status and privileges, places them among the elites of most of the countries where they are assigned. Whether one serves in Afghanistan or Zimbabwe or Washington, D.C., there is the mixed but ever-present blessing of the same warm bureaucratic embrace. It is the relative security of the career that lets foreign service people thrive on the risk, tumult, and rootlessness of foreign service life.

Rank, Title, Pay, Benefits

Foreign service ranks run backward, like NASA countdowns. Classes nine, eight, and seven are noncommissioned classes ….

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Chapter 10. Tomorrow’s Diplomats

“Who needs the State Department?” a senior administration official said in 2004, echoing the speaker at the beginning of this book. He was speaking of reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. “The military does a better job.” But, paradoxically, the widespread dissatisfaction with the performance of the foreign service in Iraq and Afghanistan led to a rare moment when the administration — two successive administrations, in fact — resolved to rebuild the foreign service and equip it to perform its mission: to make America’s way in the world.

The drive for change that began when Secretary Colin Powell’s Diplomatic Readiness Initiative caught a second wind in Secretary Clinton’s Diplomacy 3.0, and Congress accepted the need for a more robust, more agile, better-trained, and better-funded civilian force to carry out American policy. A hiring surge began in fiscal year 2009 that, by the end of 2010, had already increased the size of State’s foreign service by 15 percent above FY 2008 levels. If the administration and the Congress stick with the plan, which, as of this writing, seems unlikely, the increase will reach 25 percent in FY 2013 (table 10.1).

In USAID, the planned surge is steeper and faster, a net doubling of the number of FSOs, from 1,200 at the beginning of fiscal year 2009 to 2,400 by the end of fiscal year 2012. The Department of Commerce and the Department of Agriculture expect to hire more FSOs during this period as well (see chapter 3).

The purpose of this surge is the interesting part of the story. It is meant to strengthen the foreign service as a component of national security, the agent of smart power and of two parts of the triad of defense, diplomacy, and development. This view of the mission of the foreign service, long held by many career diplomats, took hold more broadly across the executive branch in the midst of the failure of American force to bring stability or democracy to Iraq after the defeat and capture of Saddam Hussein.

Broadly, but also slowly, and by no means smoothly: Behind the cheery “whole of government” slogan are bureaucratic rivalry, resistance to change, aversion to risk, and loyalty to existing methods and institutions. The effort to build a unit in the State Department to plan and coordinate the US government response to dangerously fragile states has struggled. Its future, still uncertain, may determine the shape of the foreign service in which today’s junior officers will spend their careers.

Stabilization, Reconstruction, and Civilian Response [S/CRS]

American forces entered Iraq in March 2003 and took control of Baghdad three weeks later. Within a year, however, an insurgency had taken hold in many parts of the country, with resistance to coalition forces combining with sectarian struggle to create a downward spiral of violence and economic collapse. In 2004 the National Security Council, tacitly acknowledging failures in planning, ordered the establishment of a US government office for stabilization and reconstruction, and after some strong debate placed that office in the Department of State. The president a year later reinforced that decision — and tried to end interagency conflicts — by directing the secretary of state to “coordinate and lead integrated United States Government efforts, involving all US Departments and Agencies with relevant capabilities, to prepare, plan for, and conduct stabilization and reconstruction activities.”2

To carry out the president’s directive, Secretary Colin Powell created an Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (CRS) and placed it directly under his control, making it S (for secretary)/CRS in ….

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