Foreign Service Reform Today

Letter from the Editor


Foreign Service reform: It is always urgently needed, in progress, yet never fully completed. Ever since the 1924 Rogers Act created the “modern” Foreign Service, reform has been on the agenda. An ever-changing world puts new and shifting demands on the Foreign Service, and it must be so.

At the start of the Biden administration, our January-February 2021 FSJ covered many of the proposals for reform being presented to the new team. Some of those recommendations have been adopted (paid internships, for one!).

Secretary of State Antony Blinken laid out his vision and priorities in an October 2021 speech on the modernization of American diplomacy. Today, there are real efforts underway for reform at State, USAID, and the other foreign affairs agencies. This month, our Focus is on the state of reform two years on.

We start by checking in on what happened to the 2020 Harvard Belfer Center report, A U.S. Diplomatic Service for the 21st Century. Veteran reformers Ambassadors Marc Grossman and Marcie Ries give us a readout on Phase II of that project in “Toward a More Modern Foreign Service: Next Steps.” They lay out four actionable recommendations from their Blueprints for a More Modern U.S. Diplomatic Service, including proposed legislative language.

Next we hear from former FSO Dan Spokojny, founder and CEO of the fp21 think tank. In “From Instinct to Evidence in Foreign Policy Decision-Making,” he argues for a new approach to knowledge management, analysis, and learning—all of which, he suggests, should be made measurable.

In “Learning the Ropes Through Rotations,” retired FSO Beatrice Camp makes a strong case for entry-level officers to spend extended time working in different sections of the embassy early in their FS careers, as was the norm for U.S. Information Agency officers back in the day.

In “Meritocracy at State: Who Deserves What,” first-tour officer Marshall Sherrell looks at changes to State’s FS hiring practices and encourages a fresh perspective on whether the Foreign Service Officer Test really is an indispensable first step to finding the “right” candidates.

In “Why Senior Leaders Cannot Reform the State Department,” FSO John Fer suggests that cultural change must come from the ranks.

In this month’s Speaking Out, “In the Corridors: Where Culture, Reputation, and DEIA Meet,” FSO Tanesha Dillard calls for a shift at the State Department away from the sometimes false perceptions of corridor reputation and toward true inclusion.

Perhaps nothing in the Foreign Service needs reform more than the political appointments realm, in particular the “tradition” of giving plum ambassadorial assignments to big-money donors. Here’s hoping a brave administration will finally put a stop to this practice.

Ambassador Eric Rubin makes the case for maintaining an apolitical Foreign Service staffed by career professionals in his President’s Views column, “Back to the Spoils System?

The FS reform theme runs through 100 years of Foreign Service Journal pages. From blue ribbon studies to efforts tried, successful and not, the FSJ Digital Archive captures that history. Our recently expanded Special Collection on FS Reform includes dozens of articles on this evergreen topic.

This month’s Feature, “Mali’s SPEAR Team: Protecting U.S. Diplomats at a Dangerous Post,” is an introduction to a unique program established after the 2012 Benghazi attacks. Diplomatic Security Special Agent Kyle Andreasen tells how it works on the ground, and Lee Gitschier covers the program basics.

In Letters-Plus, Frederic Hill offers the back story on diplomatic gaming at State in response to the November 2022 Speaking Out column by Robert Domaingue, “Why the State Department Needs an Office of Diplomatic Gaming,” which generated a great deal of interest. Hill helped establish and lead the Office of Special Programs that conducted policy-planning exercises (gaming) at State for 20 years, from 1986 to 2006.

Frequent contributor Jonathan Rickert tells the fascinating story of “The Letter That Saved a Romanian Diplomat-Spy” in Reflections. And for Local Lens, our own Ásgeir Sigfússon shares an artistic view from Helsinki.

Please keep in touch and let us know what you think of this edition. Write to

Shawn Dorman is the editor of The Foreign Service Journal.


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