The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2019
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2019 29 in that they must understand how governments make deci- sions about issues that affect U.S. foreign policy and economic interests, and divine what political forces are being brought to bear to affect the policies of America’s partners, or adversaries. Such insights and understandings are vital to devising strategies to advance U.S. foreign economic programs and interests. Also, economic officers should have all the reporting, public speaking and representational skills of any political or public diplomacy officer, coupled with a strong understanding of economic issues. While economic FSOs should be able to engage confidently on inflation or exchange rate policy with a Central Bank official, they don’t need to build a model themselves. But they should be able to figure out how to secure a commitment in a trade agreement, negotiate an international air services accord, help a U.S. company land a major trade deal or fashion congressional testimony. Training Economic officers who have political and public diplomacy skills are also ideally suited to make the connections and frame the broad perspectives that today’s world requires. The ability to integrate political, economic and regional insights is what the next generation of U.S. foreign policy will need, and economic officers with wide expertise are well positioned to make great contributions at entry- and mid-level positions—and, of course, as senior leaders in the future. As the Foreign Service Institute trains the economic officers of the future, and as senior officers mentor the leaders of the next generation, such insights should be kept in mind. Economic offi- cers should get the training and opportunities in writing, report- ing and political analysis that political officers get, even as they develop deep understanding of the nuances and foundational concepts of trade, monetary policy, environment and science. Just as every FSO should understand the basic laws and regulations affecting visa adjudication and American Citizen Services, so too should every economic officer (at least, and maybe other cones as well) understand the framework of sanc- tions policies. What is a Special Designated National? What kinds of goods require International Traffic in Arms Regulations licenses? For this, the Financial Times newspaper or The Econo- mist magazine are better reading material than the Journal of the American Economic Association. And lest we forget, language skills are as relevant for an economic officer as they are for a political officer to pick up cul- tural nuances (even though many host-government economic officials often have good English skills). Working Washington A well-rounded economic officer should seek several and varied Washington assignments to lay the groundwork for effec- tiveness in the senior ranks. This can include functional bureaus, like the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs (EB) or the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scien- tific Affairs, and the regional bureaus, as well as details outside of State such as to the National Security Council or the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). (In this connection, it is of course a pity that details to Treasury, Commerce, Agriculture or Homeland Security are more difficult to arrange.) As with overseas service, the objective should be to learn how to get things done, including in the interagency process, rather than to admire problems. Again, in order to succeed, writing, advocacy and reporting skills are vital, along with economic expertise and literacy. But even here, the comparative advantage of economic officers in the interagency process can be misun- derstood. The advantage of having economic officers in Washington— and State involvement, in general, on economic issues—is the insight they have into overseas developments, not their fluency in Washington-speak. When an economic policy discussion turns, for instance, to what the Japanese might do with respect to a U.S. initiative or unexpected development, the meeting should turn to the State economic officer, who will explain it objectively based on experience on the ground and based on outreach to colleagues in the field. But the meeting will only do that reliably if the State officer has done the homework and is in touch with economic-track colleagues in the field. Too often, economic officers in Washington assignments, especially in the main EB offices, seek to become junior Trea- sury, USTR, Department of Energy or Federal Communications Commission (and the like) domestic agency officials, based on their participation in interagency decision-making and consul- tative processes. But that is not the best strategy. The real value added in having the State Department in the economic field, as elsewhere, is that the department has a worldwide network of economic officers in the field who know the issues, constraints and local contexts. Other agencies may believe that the United States just needs to lay down policies to its partners and they will respond. But experience has shown that skills in advocacy and linkage make a difference. If you agree that context, contacts and the right spin make a difference in accomplishing negotiating goals, helping businesses with problems or in stopping bad behavior, you need a State economic officer on the case.