The Foreign Service Journal, June 2003

hirty years ago, Bill Harrop hung on the AFSA president’s wall a triptych of letters from the Secretary of State, the USIA director and the USAID administrator, attesting that the American Foreign Service Association was the labor representative of the Foreign Service. The framed letters still hang proudly there today, symbolizing the commitment of the members of the Foreign Service to improve American diplo- macy and their careers. Establishing new systems to meet the challenges facing the Foreign Service has always been hard work, start- ing with the establishment of the federal Civil Service in the 1880s. It remained a complex task when President Woodrow Wilson promulgat- ed an executive order regulat- ing the Diplomatic Service and when the Foreign Service Act (commonly known as the Rogers Act) of 1924 was passed, unifying the Diplomatic and Consular Services. And it was still a struggle in 1971-72, when AFSA worked with State Department management to develop a unique labor management system for the Foreign Service. AFSA did so against the backdrop of the VietnamWar, which elevated Foreign Service staffing levels, especially in the U.S. Agency for International Development, to record highs in order to staff pacification efforts in Vietnam. The war not only spawned widespread protests at home but fueled calls for major changes in the Foreign Service — many of them outlined in “Toward a Modern Diplomacy,” a manifesto issued in 1968 by a group of AFSA “Young Turks,” led by LannonWalker, Charlie Bray and Dean Brown. The “Young Turks” sought to expand the connections between the Foreign Service and Americans involved in foreign affairs and to modernize the Service’s personnel system. The “Participation Slate” Governing Board, led boldly by Bill Harrop, approached the modernization task, it became clear that the need to create a system of independent review of personnel system decisions was a critical factor in forcing change. The foreign affairs agen- cies, alone in the federal government, did not have an independent grievance sys- tem; all grievances filed under Section 3 of the Foreign Affairs Manual were decided by the good (or bad) judgment of the agencies’ own senior person- nel officers. In other words, those who issued the regula- tions were also the final judges of their application. Moreover, key issues, such as promotion, assignment and selection-out, were non- reviewable. These injustices were personified by the tragic April 1971 suicide of FSO Charles Thomas whom many, including the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, felt had been the victim of a series of errors by the State Department’s personnel evaluation and promotion sys- tem. Thomas was involuntarily retired for time in class and denied the right to review the contents of his own personnel file and correct errors and omissions. A key senior inspector’s report recommending his immediate promotion was not seen by the boards as it had been mis- filed. AFSA’ S “Y OUNG T URKS ” AND “P ARTICIPATION S LATES ” RECOGNIZED THAT P RESIDENT N IXON ’ S FEDERAL LABOR - MANAGEMENT REFORMS OF THE EARLY 1970 S PROVIDED THE MECHANISM TO EXPAND INTO A LABOR UNION . H ERE IS HOW THEY DID IT . B Y T EX H ARRIS 18 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / J U N E 2 0 0 3 F O C U S O N A F S A’ S 3 0 Y E A R S A S A U N I O N T AFSA B ECOMES A U NION : T HE R EFORMERS ’ V ICTORY