Monday, April 21, 2008

Developing Strategic Leaders for the 21st Century: The Foreign Service

A couple of months ago, Jeffrey McClausland published a Strategic Studies Institute publication (funded by the U.S. War College) entitled Developing Strategic Leaders for the 21st Century. He makes the case that our “new security environment requires better qualified civilian leaders to think in different patterns in order to accomplished daunting tasks.” He further writes that, “If America is to meet the multiple challenges of the 21st century, it is crucial that we developed a system that places the right people in the right places in government at the right moment. The nation critically needs civilian policymakers who can manage change and deal with the here and now.”

The development of our people must include, according to this study, “the recruitment of quality personnel, experiential learning through a series of positions of increasing responsibility, training for specific tasks or missions, and continuous education that considers both policy and process. Consequently, it requires people who are not only substantively qualified and knowledgeable regarding policy issues but also possess the leadership abilities to direct large complex organizations.”

McClausland’s study provides a historical overview of the recruitment, retention and staff development in the last twenty years and examines the three primary agencies in the crafting of foreign and defense policies: the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency. The study then outlines required changes to existing personnel management systems and development programs for all three agencies. I listed below McClausland’s eight recommended changes relevant to the Foreign Service but encourage you to read the entire report. You can find the summary and the link to the full document in my Thought Forum List under State: Future Challenges.

First, a successful Foreign Service requires officers who are consistently building new knowledge and skills. The State Department requires a 10-15 percent increase in personnel to allow for that proportion of the overall service to be in training or education at any given moment. This number must be rigorously fenced off solely for these purposes to allow for adequate training and development. Failure to do so will result in personnel being simply absorbed into ongoing operational efforts.

Second, expanding requirements and the pressing need to maintain a surge capacity require more flexibility for admission to the Foreign Service. Horizontal entry and exit should be considered whereby those with a particular background or linguistic skill could enter laterally at grades far above entry level. Furthermore, greater allowances should be made for career FSOs to take a leave of absence for personal reasons and subsequently return to duty.

Third, any use of “blindfolding” for selection to the Foreign Service should be ended, and overall recruiting practices reviewed.

Fourth, the Alternative Examination Program should be broadened to include those in the military (both active and reserve) or who complete graduate degrees in areas of particular need.

Fifth, control of the FSI should be passed from the Undersecretary of Management and placed directly under the Deputy Secretary. This shift would give FSI greater prominence, underscore the importance of FSO development, and allow the department leadership to better control course offerings and selection policies.

Sixth, opportunities for development assignments at think tanks, congressional staffs, military war colleges, etc., should be actively sought as part the department’s overall development programs.

Seventh, critical problems exist with respect to pay, allowances, and retirements. FSOs serving in Iraq and Afghanistan pay taxes while serving abroad, unlike uniformed military, and effectively take a pay cut during these assignments. Foreign Service retirement is capped, and, unlike the military or other government agencies, State Department retirees cannot accept another government position without forfeiting a significant portion of their retirement pay. These compensation issues must be addressed.

Finally, the Hart-Rudman Commission made one final internal recommendation for the State Department in 2001 that still deserves consideration. The report recommended changing the Foreign Service’s name to the United States Diplomatic Corps. Some might argue that this is superficial rhetoric mongering, but it could have a significantly beneficial impact. It would serve as a reminder that this group of people do not serve foreign interests but are rather central to U.S. national security. Such a change would further rationalize the value of diverse assignments in regional bureaus, abroad in an embassy, and in the functional components of the organization. This change might help to better depict a career pattern for young people considering diplomatic service as a possible profession. Finally, it would also serve to emphasize that the traditional mission of the State Department to provide national representation abroad has dramatically changed, as revealed in the recent report The Embassy of the Future. This report observes that diplomats of the future will need traits and skills that are different from those of diplomats a decade ago and even those hired today. A change in organizational culture is required, as the “new diplomat must be an active force in advancing U.S. interests, not just a gatherer and transmitter of information.”

A note on the author: Jeffrey McClausland graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1972 and was commissioned in field artillery. He is also a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He holds both a Masters and Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. He was appointed Visiting Professor of International Law and Diplomacy at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law in January 2007.

I think these recommendations deserve real consideration. Funding will always be an issue, of course, but Congress must realize sooner or later that we usually get what we pay for (just as long as they won't scream their heads off when thing fall apart in the international arena). I do think that the State leadership and the WH must do more to get the needed resources for our country's arm in "soft power" (with 273 days left in office, I doubt anything would happen, but one can dream). The fact is - we can globally reposition the "red-headed stepchild" all we want, but that's not going to be enough nor would it make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things.

Transforming the Foreign Service into an effective diplomatic service prepared for the challenges of the new century does not come cheap; the strategy of shuffling human and fiscal resources to keep the tab down is not going to work because well, it's like a ship, you see - you can't save it, much less transform it, if you only plug the leak in one place but not the leaks in the rest of the vessel. By the time you get to pick a new color, a new engine or a new captain, that ship would be long under water.


Consul-At-Arms said...

I've quoted you and linked to you here:

DS said...

Thanks CAA!