The Foreign Service Journal, June 2003

Creating a single Foreign Service system embracing dif- ferent government agencies. This basic reaffirmation of the principles of the Rogers Act brought both State management and AFSA into conflict with a for- midable group of opponents. Other foreign affairs agencies were jealous of their own prerog- atives. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., who later became a strong proponent of consolidation of foreign affairs functions, ardently fought the concept of a single Foreign Service that he viewed as “elitist.” The AFL-CIO saw the seeds of the demise of its “Foreign Service” bargaining unit in USIA and fielded, by our count, eight of its lobbyists to block it. Large numbers of individuals who had slipped into the Foreign Service personnel system over the years with- out being available for worldwide service felt threat- ened, though their Foreign Service privileges were grandfathered. Had it not been for the intense public focus on the common plight of those being held hostage in our embassy in Tehran, it is doubtful that the basic premise of the U.S. Foreign Service would have survived into the 1980s. Those heroic women and men made an enduring contribution to U.S. foreign affairs. From Tehran, Charge d’Affaires Bruce Laingen, who was permitted some communication from his confinement in the Iranian Foreign Ministry, was in consultation with us as we put forth our positions on the act. So too was Ambassador Diego Asencio, separately being held hostage in Bogotá. The outcome was a final ver- sion of the Foreign Service Act that begins with a finding that: “A career Foreign Service, character- ized by excellence and profession- alism, is essential in the national interest.” Reconciling the conflicting needs for a reliable promotion system, up-or-out procedures, rewards for years of faithful ser- vice, and retention of specialized skills. By the late 1970s, promotions in the Foreign Service had come to a virtual standstill as extensions of time in a single class or in multiple-classes, as well as reluctance to use selec- tion-out for low ranking, became commonplace in the senior ranks. Compounding the situation was a per- ception that the Foreign Service was out of step with the Civil Service after the creation of the Senior Executive Service with a threshold that did not then exist in the Foreign Service. This was an especially divisive issue pitting senior officers threatened by change against others who demanded it. The senior officers who were most vocal in their opposition, how- ever, never organized themselves into a cohesive inter- est group, unlike other groups with special concerns such as the staff corps, USIA and Foreign Commercial Service officers, spouses, and minority groups. Each of these groups had formal organizations and presented the AFSA Governing Board with strong positions on the issues of special interest to them. A Team Effort Foreign Service members stationed around the world worked with the AFSA team in debating and influencing every provision of the chapter of the act dealing with pro- motion and retention. We insisted on transition provi- sions to ease the impact on those most affected by the new provisions. At one point, debate with management over critical details of these provisions became so intense that the AFSA delegation walked out of the talks and threatened to scuttle the act. In the end, we believed we had achieved a fair balance between protection of indi- vidual officers and the need for fluidity within the system. We never doubted, however, that the subject would require constant monitoring by our successors to pre- serve this precarious balance. F O C U S J U N E 2 0 0 3 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 43 For many of us in the middle ranks of the Foreign Service during this period, the choice was: “reform it or leave it.” Ken Bleakley joined the Foreign Service in 1963, serv- ing in the Dominican Republic, Spain, Panama, Bolivia and El Salvador. He was AFSA president from 1979 to 1981, when he left to become DCM in El Salvador, and later served as senior deputy U.S. coordinator for inter- national communications and information policy. After retiring from the Foreign Service in 1992, Bleakley founded First Personal Communications Inc., subsequently acquired by FONEMED, LLC. He is now the president and CEO of FONEMED ( ), which builds and operates med- ical call centers worldwide.