The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2019

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2019 101 Grievance Therapy In an earlier life, I had been a griev- ance counselor and chief steward of a labor union in the State Department. In that capacity, I initiated a number of grievances based on the department’s violations of its own written regula- tions, procedures and policy state- ments. (Among other cases I handled was the EEO complaint filed in 1968 by the women’s rights pioneer FSO Alison Palmer, the first of its kind in the State Department.) Institutionally, I believe the Foreign Service generally tries to do the right thing. But when the right thing runs into the cost of compliance, informal practices or other challenges to Foreign Service folkways, managers may resort to guerrilla warfare and outright stonewall- ing to avoid it. Having become well acquainted with these tactics during my 22 years in the Foreign Service, I was ready to take on the front office. Conversations with pals back in Washington confirmed my understanding that no one at FCS had any objection to my proceeding—as long as I did it on my own hook. Following the dictates of the Foreign Affairs Manual, I duly sent a memo- randum of grievance to the embassy’s deputy chief of mission (DCM), request- ing that the ambassador’s February 1982 memo to Economic Counselor York be recalled and rendered null and void. Three days later, I received a call from the embassy’s front office summoning me for a chat. Amb. Burns was initially amicable, asking why I had gone to the extraordinary length of filing a griev- ance over such a trivial matter as internal embassy organization. I referred to the MOU and expressed concerns that without autonomy, Commerce would be handicapped in carrying out its mis- sion in the country of its most extensive operations. The ambassador fixed me in his steely gaze, relit his very smelly pipe and deliv- ered this verdict: “You’re just trying to gain turf, aren’t you?” I observed that the same logic applied to his argument for the status quo. He sucked on the pipe again and said, “Yes, but I’m ambassador.” Just then Jean Balestrieri, his secretary (and a good friend of mine), put her head through the door, “Your phone call has just come through.” “Please excuse me,” Burns said. I did more than that: I excused myself and trudged back to my office. A Deus Ex Machina? So things stood, until a curious and wholly unanticipated event took place a few months later. The front office informed me that Malcolm Baldridge, the Secretary of Commerce, would be arriv- ing in Bonn the next day. I was to fetch him in the ambassador’s car—accompanied by Charles York (who, awkwardly for me, was now acting DCM) and the acting economic counselor, Karl Jonietz—and bring him to the embassy. After meeting with the ambassador, Secretary Baldridge and his party would be transported back to the airport in a two-car convoy. On the trip to the embassy, Mr. York took it upon himself to accompany the visitors in the ambassador’s car, and Karl Jonietz and I were relegated to the chase car. For the return trip to the airfield, however, Sec. Baldridge informed Mr. York that I would be riding with him. Mr. York protested, sputtering about his higher rank. “I want to have a talk with Harrison,” said the Secretary. “You (indicating me) get in the front.” As we cleared the embassy parking lot, Sec. Baldridge accosted me. “So what’s all this dust-up between the economic and commercial sections in the embassy?” “Well, sir,” I began, anticipating his wrath at my challenge to the ambassa- dor’s authority, “it’s because of an MOU between the departments of State and Commerce…” I droned on, reciting the text of my grievance. Both Secretary Baldridge and Under Secretary Lionel Olmer peppered me with intelligent, searching questions on the subject until we arrived at the airfield. “Mr. Secretary,” I asked just before we stopped, “do you have any instructions as to how I should proceed?” “Stick to your guns, Harrison,” he replied. “Sir?” I gasped. “Just stick to your guns,” he repeated. There was never any telegraphic traffic on the subject of my grievance between the embassy and Secretary Baldridge, neither before nor after his visit. Yet I found out later that it was the sole subject of conversation between the ambassador and the secretary. After about 18 months, the Foreign Service Grievance Board found in my favor. The next year I received my FCS commission, and several months after that I was promoted to the rank of Career Counselor. Although Amb. Burns lost, he did receive one concession. In comply- ing with the Grievance Board verdict, the embassy administrative counselor addressed the memorandum setting forth that decision to: “DCM, Econ, FCS”— and “AMB/O: Mrs. Jean Bales- trieri.” No one dared to beard the old curmudgeon by name! Much later Jean confided to me: “Of course he knew, but didn’t feel it neces- sary to talk about it.” n