Let 100 foreign services bloom

The Biden administration inherited an overburdened and understaffed State Department with a smaller Foreign Service than it was in 2016 that struggles to reflect national diversity. Moreover, in recent years, morale has fallen precipitously: the State Department, which previously ranked third among the best places to work among major federal government agencies, fell to the bottom five in 2019. To make matters worse The problem, foreign service officer review applications, a rough gauge of interest in diplomatic careers, recently hit its lowest point since 2008.

At the same time, modern diplomacy has become much more complicated and technical, expanding the work the State Department is charged with beyond its traditional remit. To name a few crises, COVID-19 and global warming highlight the need for scientific and specialized expertise in American diplomacy.

The Biden administration should look outside Foggy Bottom for solutions to these new challenges and seize the opportunity to implement policies that attract talent from underrepresented communities that have traditionally struggled to become diplomats. Specifically, Congress should train new foreign service executives in the Departments of Energy (DOE), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Treasury.

The Biden administration inherited an overburdened and understaffed State Department with a smaller Foreign Service than it was in 2016 that struggles to reflect national diversity. Moreover, in recent years, morale has fallen precipitously: the State Department, which previously ranked third among the best places to work among major federal government agencies, fell to the bottom five in 2019. To make matters worse The problem, foreign service officer review applications, a rough gauge of interest in diplomatic careers, recently hit its lowest point since 2008.

At the same time, modern diplomacy has become much more complicated and technical, expanding the work the State Department is charged with beyond its traditional remit. To name a few crises, COVID-19 and global warming highlight the need for scientific and specialized expertise in American diplomacy.

The Biden administration should look outside Foggy Bottom for solutions to these new challenges and seize the opportunity to implement policies that attract talent from underrepresented communities that have traditionally struggled to become diplomats. Specifically, Congress should train new foreign service executives in the Departments of Energy (DOE), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Treasury.

Each body could sit under the existing offices of international or global affairs in each agency. Initially, they could be staffed with approximately 150 Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) deployed to strategic embassies and consulates, as determined by the White House and State Department.

These three departments are already taking an active role in managing the overlapping crises facing Americans at home, and the solutions they are implementing extend beyond US borders. Providing them with dedicated personnel and resources would help extend the reach and depth of US diplomacy and technical assistance abroad.

First, the DOE could rely on its overseas assignments, which send officials overseas to work on nuclear security and nonproliferation issues. Complementing these activities, the DOE could deploy FSOs to identify potential bilateral clean energy infrastructure projects at the research and demonstration stage. While the department itself will be just one of many agencies fighting climate change at home, a small diplomatic corps within it could have an outsized impact as the United States helps other countries decarbonize. .

As it stands, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have likely plateaued and will begin to decline steadily by the end of the decade (although not at a rate consistent with the goals set out in the Paris Agreement). Instead, China and India will drive global emissions growth in the years to come. Washington should therefore focus its resources on helping these countries achieve ecological goals at an affordable price. This would have an outsized impact on reducing global emissions compared to an approach that aggressively reduces US emissions only with technologies that, say, New Delhi cannot match and replicate. DOE diplomats abroad could help ensure foreign countries get the resources they really need while providing U.S. companies with hard-to-determine business intelligence that will help them compete in the growing industry. clean technologies. Here, affordable carbon capture and storage technologies may not play a big role in decarbonizing the United States, but will likely be critical to India’s effort – and are one of countless solutions. energy that the foreign energy service could mark as high priority.

Second, HHS could effectively expand its health attaché program, which already deploys personnel to a handful of countries. The foreign health service could focus on both global health diplomacy and global health security to give the US government a better sense of potential outbreaks at early stages. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has long sent its scientists overseas to prevent, detect, and respond to disease threats. Global health diplomats would expand the footprint of this existing mission and work closely with colleagues at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which manages a large portfolio of global health programs.

Third, Treasury FSOs would work within the overall framework of the ministry’s existing international assistance programs: debt restructuring, credit rating, and management and monetization of state assets. Even before the pandemic worsened last fall, the World Bank predicted an economic contraction in almost every region, which would push more than 100 million people into poverty around the world. At the same time, Chinese overseas lending under the Belt and Road Initiative flag portends further over-indebtedness given the massive scale of ongoing lending around the world with opaque contractual terms and conditions. limited cost-benefit analyses.

Whenever the COVID-19 pandemic finally subsides, countries will have to undertake the long task of getting their economies back on track for sustainable growth. To this end, the foreign financial service could help its counterparts in relevant ministries to restructure debt, renegotiate contracts and attract public and private capital for job-creating stimulus projects.

To be clear, the State Department’s Foreign Service should not back down on these issues. Instead, having interagency colleagues abroad to support them would free them to focus on their own comparative advantages. For example, having a corps of diplomats dedicated to energy systems will free up State Department FSOs to better support its Bureaus of Energy Resources, Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, and Economic and Business Affairs in providing the Secretary of State with much-needed advice. as his team protects critical mineral supply chains and negotiates emissions inventory procedures – two thorny issues that will require skillful diplomacy.


Creating additional Foreign Services outside of the State Department may seem like a sea change, but the Foreign Service has long awaited an overhaul: Congress last modernized its structure 40 years ago with the Foreign Service Act. 1980 exterior.

The fact that the DOE, Treasury and HHS already maintain limited attaché programs that send personnel overseas to US embassies and consulates signals the need for a more permanent presence. These initiatives would probably be more important without budgetary and personnel constraints.

Additionally, the US government has long had diplomatic corps outside of the State Department, including the Foreign Agricultural Service at the Department of Agriculture. Its more than 100 FSOs play a vital role in promoting global food security and creating market opportunities for American agricultural products.

Scaling up these efforts by creating new services in these branches is based on a tried truth of bureaucratic management: larger ones are slow to change. However, the danger lies in what the plan means for diversity and inclusion. Creating Again risks reproducing long-standing and well-documented structural biases that minorities, especially black diplomats, face in hiring and advancement. The problem is particularly acute for those serving overseas: relative to both the U.S. population and the respective civil services, whites are overrepresented in the foreign service at both the State Department and USAID. . Instead, it will take proactive inclusive design to avoid these biases and consequently create a replication model.

Members of Congress and new senior officials called upon to lead the State Department, the White House and the intelligence community have made suggestions aimed at diversifying the United States’ top diplomatic corps. Their recommendations include establishing mid-career pathways for underrepresented groups, developing recruiting relationships with historically black colleges and universities, integrating efforts to promote diversity and inclusion as criteria in promotion considerations, requiring mandatory annual reviews of systemic barriers faced by underrepresented groups, and collecting comprehensive hiring, advancement and retention data at all levels, disaggregated by race , sex and sex.

Certainly, the State Department should adopt all of these policies and procedures, but these proposals could also be rolled out more quickly in newer, smaller, and more nimble diplomatic corps. The creation of new bureaucracies poses its own significant challenges, but also offers a myriad of advantages: linking foreign policy to the domestic concerns on which these agencies usually work, tapping into the essential technical expertise these departments already possess for the purposes of foreign policy and, above all, to pilot new programs and procedures for inclusive recruitment and advancement in the diplomatic arena.

The most pressing challenges facing American diplomats now — climate, public health and economic crises — are the same ones that average Americans, especially those in marginalized communities, face in their daily lives. The Biden administration plans to respond to these emergencies at home with resources from all parts of the US government. It should seize the opportunity to do the same abroad.