Veteran diplomats call for an overhaul of the US Foreign Service – Harvard Gazette

Former top US State Department officials are calling for the first complete overhaul of the US Foreign Service in 40 years, saying in a new report that the country’s diplomatic corps must be less politicized, more professional and more nimble in order to confront “one of the deepest crises in its long and proud history.

the report released Tuesday by the Future of Diplomacy Project at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs offered a set of 10 detailed recommendations for positioning the United States Foreign Service to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The authors of the report include Nicholas Burns, the Roy and Barbara Goodman family professor of the practice of diplomacy and international relations, who is the faculty chair of the Future of Diplomacy Project. As a career diplomat, Burns became Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. Its co-authors were career diplomats Marc Grossman, a former member of the Fisher family at the Kennedy School who also held that post, and Marcie Ries, a senior fellow with the Future of Diplomacy Project who spent 37 years in the service. diplomat and is a senior adviser to the Foreign Service Institute.

Among their recommendations, the authors urge the new Biden administration and the US Congress to curb the practice of appointing political supporters as ambassadors and senior State Department officials rather than career professionals. The report notes that none of the 23 current Senate-confirmed Assistant Secretaries of State are career public servants, “unprecedented in the modern history of the State Department.”

Instead, the authors say the next administration should commit to appointing career professionals to 75% of those assistant secretary positions, and that career diplomats should fill 90% of all ambassadorial positions, compared to an average of only 70% over the past decades.

At an online event to announce the findings, Burns said the US military and US intelligence agencies don’t have such a tradition of appointing political figures to such high positions.

“Can you imagine if we have politicized the army so much? The officer corps? We wouldn’t think of having a politically appointed carrier captain,” Burns told an audience of about 250 people, including many current and former diplomats who had attended 40 working group sessions during the past year to gather ideas for the report.

The authors urged Congress and President-elect Joe Biden to engage in a bipartisan effort to draft a new Foreign Service Act to codify legislative changes for the first time since the Foreign Service Act of 1980. They said dramatic changes in the world since then, including technological advances such as artificial intelligence, require a better trained and more qualified diplomatic corps, freed from the constraints of an antiquated personnel system.

To this end, the new law should authorize and fund a 15% increase in foreign service officer personnel, or 2,000 additional officers, to create a “training float” like the one maintained by the U.S. military to enable a intensive training for part of the population. career staff at all times. Ries called for a “career-long commitment to education” for Foreign Service officers that would be closer to the approach of the US military and intelligence branches – both of which have undergone overhauls like the one that the authors now ask for the diplomatic corps.

Burns recalled that former Secretary of State Colin Powell often said he spent about seven years of his 35-year military career in training programs, while Burns said he only had a few months of training during his diplomatic career, which included a stint as US Ambassador to NATO.

The Foreign Service also needs to adopt a flatter structure at the State Department, more innovation and more tolerance for risk-taking, the authors said. Additionally, the service requires a formal commitment to drive a drastic increase in diversity that places more African Americans, Latinos, and women in ambassadorial positions.

To reflect the envisioned changes in culture and learning, the authors argue that the name should change from the current United States Foreign Service.

“A name that begins with ‘foreign’ and ends with ‘United States’ is the reverse of how we should see American diplomats,” the report said.

Instead, the authors say they’ve found near-universal support for a proposed new name: the “United States Diplomatic Service.”