The Foreign Service Journal, May 2023

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MAY 2023 13 LETTERS-PLUS Moving in theWrong Direction BY JUDITH M. HEIMANN RESPONSE TO MARCH 2023 FOCUS, “FS REFORM: OUTLOOK AND CONSIDERATIONS” Judith Moscow Heimann, before and after becoming a Foreign Service officer, has written nonfiction books, most of them about people and places in Southeast and East Asia. She helped write two TV documentaries, for the BBC and PBS (“The Barefoot Anthropologist” and “Headhunters of World War II”), drawn from two of those books. She divides her year between Washington, D.C., and Brussels, Belgium. Her son is a senior pilot at NetJets, and her daughter is a senior professor of modern European history at a British university. T he March 2023 Journal’ s focus on Foreign Service reform inspired me, an elderly retired Foreign Service officer, to take this opportunity to present my curmudgeonly views on a series of basic errors or wrong turns that have over- powered the previous practices and priorities of the U.S. Foreign Service. This series of errors began long before—but was aggravated by—various attacks on U.S. missions abroad. And the missteps have been put into overdrive by the ever-increasing power of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) and the overwhelming power of the White House in foreign affairs as compared to that of the State Department, as well as by the increasing role of well-funded missions of our armed services reducing the influ- ence abroad of our diplomatic missions. I write from the perspective of having been, straight out of college in 1957, the wife of an FSO serving chiefly in Southeast Asia. I then became, 15 years later, one of the first two FS spouses to become an FSO (in 1972) via the first FSO exam not barred to spouses. Then came 20 years as an FSO, mostly as a political officer in Western Europe, but also in East Africa, alongside my husband, until he retired to let me get a couple of better jobs during my last FS years: consul general in Bordeaux, followed by being responsible for running a big Vietnamese “boat people” refugee installation in the Philippines. I retired in 1992 as a brand-new Senior Foreign Service member, but then spent many years as a rehired annuitant, before and after my husband died of cancer. For months each year from 2001 to 2011, I worked under the spurious title of “senior adviser to the political section” in Brus- sels. There, I worked on European Union political affairs, all aspects of the conflict diamonds problem, and helped the U.S. embassy and our U.S. Mission to the European Union maintain and increase their access to local officials, including but not limited to diplomats. In a nutshell, I always saw my job as getting to know useful and knowledge- able people in the countries I worked in and to report who they were and what they thought. I knew that what I focused on was only one aspect of what Foreign Service officers are supposed to do; they are also supposed to convince the right people in that country or organization of our policies and preferences. Some of my colleagues at post did the latter job much better than I could, but in many cases they got to be on terms of amity and trust with the people they needed to convince in part because of the social access that I could help provide them, drawing on my contacts. To do that, I also relied on the wise counsel and support I received from our locally hired staff, then known as Foreign Service Nationals. In the past eight or more years, I have seen or sensed that virtually everything I had been permitted to do as an FSO or as a rehired annuitant and the people who helped me do it have almost disappeared from our posts abroad. Instead, FSOs in the field are being forced to spend most of their time presenting D.C.-provided arguments to host-country strangers with seemingly no thought given to the fact that the FSOs are living and working in a foreign country with its own priorities. During these same years, FS staffing abroad has been drastically reduced in political and economic sections, with long staffing gaps between incum- bents. The result has been that if an FSO assigned overseas is lucky enough to learn something useful, or to acquire a good local contact, the knowledge gained often gets forgotten or lost before that officer’s successor arrives. Instead of providing additional officers to reduce the inhumane work- load answering endless urgent demands fromWashington, our posts abroad have been given more than they need of DS officers whose major job appears to be to make sure that FSOs assigned to a post abroad don’t make close friends or come