Department of State - Management efficiency




Developed—like all cabinet-level executive departments of the federal government—along the lines of precedent and personality rather than constitutional or legislative sanction, the State Department until the twentieth century had little organizational rhyme or reason. From Jefferson and Remsen through to Evarts and Adee, the department functioned by tradition, and often did so rather poorly. For example, in 1906 an inspector of American consulates in Asia found two consuls who were decrepit; two otherwise unfit for duty; one morally suspect; one charged with coercing a sultan into paying a debt for which he, the consul, was collector; one charged with drunkenness and the issuance of fraudulent papers; and one, "a coarse and brutal type," against whom eighty-two complaints were registered. Pressure to restructure the consular service, the branch of the department charged directly with the responsibility of looking after American citizens and business interests abroad, came, in great part, from those business interests themselves. Nearly a decade of lobbying went into the executive order of November 1905 and the passage in April 1906 of a consular reorganization bill. The purpose of the pressure and the proposals produced by it was the same, "in a word, to put the entire diplomatic system on a business basis, and to manage it in the future in accordance with the principles of sound common sense." Such principles included more effective training programs. Selective language training in the foreign service began in 1895 through the assignment of officers as "student interpreters" to the American legations in Persia, Korea, and Siam. In 1902 ten student interpreter posts were created at Peking (Beijing) for Chinese language training.

Training in consular responsibilities dates from 1907, when seven new consuls were given thirty-day courses of instruction. The purpose was "to give novitiates in the consular service some practical training in the running of a consular office before sending them off to their posts." In 1924 additional training for diplomatic and consular officers began with the establishment of a foreign service school, which sent new officers to divisions of the department for several months before their assignment abroad. In the 1930s the renamed Foreign Service Officers' Training School provided junior officers with training in consular and commercial work after their two-year probationary tour abroad.

Increasingly, some officers were also sent to universities for graduate study. While all training was suspended during World War II, it was resumed after the war with the establishment of the Foreign Service Institute. In theory, the intention was to copy a business model by creating the most efficient system with the most efficient people. Such changes included revised entrance examinations and consular associations, in addition to the foreign service schools.

The reforms were perhaps best represented in the internal system of ratings and inspections used to rule on promotions. Forms, which eventually swelled to some 212 questions by the 1920s, and departmental retention and promotion rating codes were used to provide uniform standards for personnel decisions. The most significant concern expressed by the forms and rating codes was to be a measuring device of the "efficiency of the individual." It was hoped that such evaluations would purge the "decrepit, unfit, morally suspect, drunken and coarse and brutal types, etc. " from the consular service.

Deeply felt personal, status, and career differences separated the department's consular service from the diplomatic, which officially represented the government of the United States in international relations. Diplomats often considered themselves professional policymakers and were more bound to State Department traditions. Managers and planners, usually emerging, like Carr, from the consular side, were held in low esteem. One diplomat observed those "administrative types who inflate themselves with all sorts of rich and resonant titles like Career Evaluators, and General Services Specialists, and even Ministers of Embassy for Administrative Affairs. These glorified janitors, supply clerks, and pants-pressers yearn to get their fingers in the foreign affairs pie, and when they do, the diplomatic furniture often gets marked with gummy thumbprints."

It must be noted, however, that truly significant organizational reform in the Department of State did not stop at the consular-diplomatic demarcation. Diplomats such as Phillips and Grew remarked at how much of their work concerned the same business interests and pressures directed at the consuls. New departures were taken with a view to improving the efficiency of the State Department, not just one part of it.

Of most direct contact with the business-consular developments of the early twentieth century were modifications in the preparations of commercial reports. The Bureau of Statistics, a province of influential geopoliticians such as O. P. Austin, was renamed the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce. Although control of it was shifted to the Commerce and Labor Department in 1903, a corollary agency, the Bureau of Trade Relations, was immediately established. The State Department advanced this effort to collect and analyze business data with the creation of the Office of the Economic Adviser in 1921. This position came to be held by important advisers such as Herbert Feis.

The State Department's approach to filing and record keeping, somewhat more detailed than in Remsen's day, was reworked several times in the twentieth century to provide greater systemization. Thus were created in turn the Numerical Files of 1906–1910 and the more comprehensive and efficient Decimal Files in 1910. In the 1960s began a subject-numeric system, and in the 1970s the department's central file was computerized. The Division of Information, created in 1909, took responsibility for preserving the depart-ment's data and publishing selected annual excerpts in the already established House of Representatives publication series, Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS). This series entered what has been called its "modern era" in 1921, under the supervision of Gaillard Hunt and another agency he headed called the Division of Publications. During and after World War II, tremendous growth in the number of pages of files and the widespread practice of stamping documents with secret classifications slowed release of FRUS volumes. In 1989 more than thirty years separated the publication of official correspondence from its original date, and Congress set a statutory goal of a thirty-year maximum elapsed time for issuing the volumes.

Of greatest precedence on the diplomatic side was the creation in March 1908 of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs and the structuring of the whole State Department into a number of similar geographically grouped "divisions" in the years that followed. Before World War II, when the Department of State still numbered well below one thousand employees in all, these regional divisions were small, usually manned by only a few "desk officers" dealing with American embassies and legations overseas. Their purpose was to provide better machinery for the coordination of policy at all levels. In time, the five regional divisions (Europe, East Asia, Near East and South Asia, Inter-American, African) and a sixth desk, the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (responsible for relations with the American mission to the United Nations), grew dramatically in size and complexity. An assistant secretary headed each bureau and supervised the close contact with American embassies in the respective areas of responsibility. Below the assistant secretary were office directors, each responsible for a small group of countries. The country desk officer was the "low man on the totem pole," concerned with policy toward a single foreign nation.

The culmination of all these administrative changes came in two efforts to make the various components of the State Department into "inter-changeable" parts. First was the Rogers (Foreign Service) Act of 1924 and second was the movement known as "Wristonization" in the 1950s. The pressures and reasoning producing the Rogers Act, which merged the consular and diplomatic services into a single foreign service, were similar to those that resulted in the previously mentioned separate and more piecemeal reforms on both sides of the department. As Representative John Rogers remarked, business forces were united and once again exerting influence. He noted that "practically every chamber of commerce and trade organization in the United States and many of the American chambers and trade organizations functioning in other parts of the world have gone on record as favoring this particular reorganization of our foreign service." Rather than a radical departure, the Rogers Act was a culmination of the well-defined premises of efficient control and a transition to still further forms of administrative systemization. In place of the separation and distinction between the broadly separated categories of political interest in the diplomatic service and commercial interest in the consular service, there would be one unified Department of State.

With the increased size of the department, a movement had developed by the 1950s to merge still further the civil service staff of the State Department with the foreign service. With a shortage of personnel for positions, especially within the training programs, and a distrust between the "line" desk officers and the "staff" administrators, a committee was charged by Dulles with the task of additional State Department reorganization. The chairman of the committee was Henry M. Wriston, president of Brown University, and hence the merger of the two staffs became known as Wristonization.

This reform was not only another in a series; it also gave the first real evidence that the similar ones that had preceded it might not, after all, have been effective. Throughout the century, optimism had prevailed. Thus, Huntington Wilson had boasted in 1908, "I am happy to tell you that one of my pet hobbies, the politico-geographical division, has at last received final recognition by the creation of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs … so I now have much better machinery for my direction of the Far Eastern business." Or after the Rogers Act, Grew felt the State Department had "a new order … established, a new machine developed." But the Wriston committee described well the catalog of State Department problems after a half century of such administrative reforms. In sum, there was a marked decline in public confidence in the State Department; a similar decline in morale in the diplomatic ranks; and failure to carry through on various legislative mandates such as the Foreign Service Act of 1946, which provided for inducting officers into all levels of the foreign service so as to make it more flexible and successful.

Although Wristonization itself was another management panacea, it drew attention to the fact that the State Department's "management of human resources has been irresolute and unimaginative." Even though the question of personnel management had been under repeated study, "substantially nothing has been accomplished." The committee remarked that "all modern personnel management organizations utilize machines to facilitate the mechanical tasks of keeping personnel records; the Department however has not effectively utilized such a system." In particular, Wriston's committee criticized the "occasional tinkering" and "token" programs of recruitment and training. Congress had intended the Foreign Service Institute to be "for the State Department, what the Naval War College, the Army War College, and the National War College are for the Armed Services—an advanced training ground for officers destined for high command." But since the institute had been given little attention by the department, it did not provide the kind of educational leadership and scholarship that had been intended. Such was characteristic of the State Department's general lack of a clear concept of training requirements, career planning, and development.

The Wriston committee missed the perhaps larger significance of the protracted failure of management reforms and put all its faith in a still bigger and, it hoped, better structure. While many civil servants had been seriously involved in foreign affairs and thus would benefit themselves and the State Department by merger with the foreign service officers, a larger number of straight administrative employees (office personnel, for example) were trapped by the move into being diplomatic officers, for which they had neither ambition nor preparation.

The career uncertainty that these bureaucratic reforms injected into the department coincided with the chilling effect on creativity and responsiveness caused by McCarthyism's assault on the foreign service. Unfounded allegations of communist sympathies cost many veteran diplomats their jobs in the 1950s. McCarthyism was a grotesque extreme of a problem that had plagued State in the past and would burden it in the future, namely the tension between careerists and politicians. Foreign service officers were trained to suppress their personal views, but political appointees to posts in the department or partisan leaders outside often put pressure on careerists for political or ideological loyalty. Caution and conformity became the order of the day in the diplomatic service, with a resultant weakening of State's leadership role in foreign policy.

Forgetting, or perhaps choosing not to remember, that organizational reform enthusiasm similar to Wristonization had failed to deter and might be blamed for the bad situation now at hand, the brightest people in and out of the Department of State continued to talk of what could be done to increase management efficiency and policy effectiveness. Thus, one had come almost full circle from Remsen to Kissinger. The larger and more complex the State Department and the world became, the less important was the role of the department in making foreign policy. Instead of individual advice, the department became expert in institutional adjustments and its influence shrunk proportionally. A Rand Corporation think-tank study, United States Policy and the Third World (1967), never once mentioned the State Department.

As State's structure grew and its power vanished in the mid-twentieth century, its once high and mighty place became almost laughable. Thus, satires of departmental memoranda about such things as waste-power removal were not uncommon, nor were genuine titles such as chief of the administrative management and personnel division of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. While some flirted with participative management and Dean Rusk instituted a department suggestion box, few shared the Kissinger or Villard view that perhaps the goal might once again be "top-notch organization in which the human equation is not sacrificed to the Moloch of bureaucracy."

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