The Foreign Service Journal, June 2003

20 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 The Macomber Era, 1969-73 D uring this period of challenge and reform, the Department of State was managed with energy and vision by Amb. William Butts Macomber. Appointed as the under secretary for administration (later renamed management) in 1969, Macomber came to the job extremely well prepared. A fast-talking, overactive, passionate Yankee Republican, he had already put in long years of service in Foggy Bottom, having twice headed State’s office of congressional affairs (1957-1961 and 1967- 1969) and having served as the U.S. ambassador to Jordan in the early 1960s. Macomber knew the depart- ment inside and out, cared about it, and wanted change. The demands for major reforms from AFSA’s Young Turks, and later by the Harrop and Boyatt Participation Slates, made great sense to Macomber, who already wanted to break the State Department out of its “old boy” rut and had the wide- reaching personal connections on the Hill and in the White House needed to achieve change. Most important- ly, he enjoyed the trust of Secretary of State William Rogers, who was dealing with Vietnam and myriad other major foreign policy issues and was only too happy to delegate management of the department. (It helped that Macomber’s wife, Phyliss Bernau, was Rogers’ longtime personal assistant.) Deputy Secretary of State John “Jack” Irwin, a New York corporate lawyer who was carrying the portfolios of two ailing under secretaries in addition to his own duties, also deferred to Macomber. In a fine moment, Irwin, who was the “go-to” guy at State for President Nixon and his key staffers, stood up to the president’s personal demand that a group of Foreign Service officers be disciplined for participating in protests against the Vietnam War. Macomber had a vision not only for reforming the department, but also for changing the way American diplomacy was conducted. An energetic, demanding doer who could charm or ream as needed to get things done, he quickly recognized the utility of the AFSA “Young Turk” and “Participation” reform agendas — and the need to involve everyone in the reform process. So he draft- ed hundreds of State Department Foreign and Civil Service employees to serve on a dozen task forces exam- ining almost every aspect of how the department conducted its business. Each group pro- duced scores of recommenda- tions which, after careful vetting by Macomber and a ritual bless- ing by Rogers and Irwin and the Board of the Foreign Service, eventually formed part of an action blueprint set forth in a fat green book boldly titled Diplomacy for the 70s. The pro- posals introduced the cone sys- tem and open bidding for jobs, emancipated wives from ratings and unpaid work, mandated gender equality, provided for due process in evaluations, allowed officers to see their “secret” performance appraisals and much more. FSOs Sam Lewis and Chris Petrow were tasked by Macomber to shepherd the implementation of the pro- posals through a skeptical bureaucracy. Huge tracking charts papered Macomber’s office walls reporting on each proposal’s progress from idea to FAM regulation. Regular status reports were issued to every State employee from the Secretary on down. The bureaucra- cies in Personnel and Administration, who were luke- warm at best to these reforms, were challenged to implement scores and scores of new proposals. They watered a lot down, but many major new ideas were forced through. It was Bill Macomber’s finest achieve- ment, which he detailed after retirement in a small book titled Angel’s Game. Atop Macomber’s desk were numerous other ticking bombs. One was President Nixon’s 1969 Executive Order Macomber had a vision not only to reform the Department, but also to change the way American diplomacy was conducted.