The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2019

100 JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2019 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL REFLECTIONS The Way We Were—State and the New Commercial Service BY HARR I SON SHERWOOD N ot long after I had taken upmy duties as deputy senior com- mercial officer in Bonn, West Germany, in 1981, the newU.S. ambassador, Arthur F. Burns, arrived. My boss was Walter Stadtler, an old friend, who had decided to remain in the State Department rather than transfer into the Foreign Commercial Service, which had recently come into being. Shortly before Walter left, he was asked to brief the new ambassador on the embassy’s commercial operation and invitedme to join him. As Walter described the organization and functions of the U.S. commercial section, then the largest in the world, Ambassador Burns waited semi-patiently, sucking noisily on his ever- present pipe. As soon as Walter paused for breath, he pounced. “Do you people really think youmake any difference to U.S. exports?” Burns asked. Walter’s answer was typical Foreign Service: “On the one hand, this, and on the other hand, that…” I could see our proud operation going up in smoke. “Of course, we don’t make sales for American exporters,” I interjected. “U.S. businesses would never allow bureaucrats into their sales offices, but we do inform the market. We study German industry Harrison Sherwood joined the State Department Foreign Service in 1960, serving in Cali, Helsinki, Stockholm, Santiago, Madrid, Bonn and Washing- ton, D.C. After transferring to the newly created Foreign Commercial Service in 1983, he served as deputy assistant secretary for foreign operations at the Department of Commerce, commercial counselor to The Hague, minister coun- selor for commercial operations in Mexico City and commercial counselor in Stockholm. Since retiring from the Service in 1993, he has lived in Cambridge, England. sectors and identify potential German buy- ers and representatives. We thenmake this intelligence available to U.S. exporters.” Not a fan of political appointees, I mischievously added: “‘A well-informed market is a more efficient market,’ I believe I read in some dusty economics textbook somewhere.” Arthur Burns, a two-time chairman of the Federal Reserve, was quite familiar with that maxim, of course. Though he did not deign to reply, the dirty look he gave me could only mean one thing: “Smart ass!” Turf War WhenWalter left in late 1981, I became the acting commercial counselor in Bonn and soon foundmyself at loggerheads with Amb. Burns. But first, a little background. The basic document defining the role of the Foreign Commercial Service is a mem- orandumof understanding between the under secretaries of State and Commerce dated Sept. 26, 1979. As it happened, while on home leave in late 1978 and early 1979, I had assisted in drafting that MOU. I had done my best to eliminate loopholes and ambiguities, an effort that continued via two explanatory cables sent jointly by State and Commerce. As a result, there could be no question about the intent of the agreement: The FCS was to have the same autonomous status within embassies and consulates that defense attaché offices have. Rick McElheny, Director General of the Foreign Commercial Service at the time, had used a recent tour of Western Europe to reinforce that message. Personally con- fronting Charles T. York, head of Embassy Bonn’s economic section, over his refusal to stop presenting himself as “Minister for Economic and Commercial Affairs,” Rick had threatened to remove the sign on York’s door himself if it weren’t gone the next day. The sign disappeared, but the battle was far fromover. On Feb. 8, 1982, Ambassador Burns issued a memorandum toMr. York in which he referred to an arrangement made by his predecessor, Ambassador Walter J. Stoessel Jr., to keep the commercial func- tion within the “supervision and control of the economic section.” He then sent a copy of that memo to yours truly, to ensure that “Mr. Sherwood is aware of my instruc- tions.” Well, Mr. Sherwood was certainly aware of those instructions. He also knew that they were improper and illegal. ISTOCKPHOTO.COM/GIVAGA