The Foreign Service Journal, June 2008

J U N E 2 0 0 8 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 43 hen I first joined the Foreign Service 18 years ago, I was a bit surprised by how wary other agencies were of the Department of State, especially in security matters. But over the years, I have gained a better understanding of the reasons behind that unfortunate attitude. Consider the Collaborative Management Initiative (originally known as the Copenhagen Management Ini- tiatives, and later as the Corporate Management Initia- tives). This concept was developed and is being shep- herded along by the Regional Initiatives Council, set up to identify ways that State Department offices can im- prove service while reducing costs. The council is com- prised of the executive directors from the six regional bureaus as well as directors from the Management Bureau’s Office of Policy Review and Interagency Liai- son. A key mechanism for achieving those twin goals is called Locally Engaged Staff Empowerment. The LES category encompasses two groups of employees working at our overseas diplomatic missions: Foreign Service National employees from each host country and American citizens resident there (i.e., not family mem- bers of Foreign Service personnel). Specifically, LES Empowerment calls for local staff members at overseas posts to completely take over responsibilities for functions such as financial manage- ment, general services and human resources from Foreign Service officers. State acknowledges that mak- ing this shift carries significant startup costs, but main- tains that the net financial savings will still be substantial because the department will no longer have to cover the considerably higher pay and benefits that direct-hire Americans (i.e., members of the Foreign Service) in those positions receive. At first glance, the idea does indeed provide a cozy feeling that fits with our egalitarian tradition. But on clos- er examination, that warm glow should trigger some alarms. In fact, if we move ahead with LES Empower- ment, we need to have plenty of fire trucks standing by. Post (In)Security Instead, three distinct flaws should lead State to aban- don this proposal before it does real harm to our organi- zation and country: security, costs and accountability. F O C U S O N T H E F S P E R S O N N E L S Y S T E M T HE M OVEMENT TO E MPOWER L OCALLY E NGAGED S TAFF E MPOWERING F OREIGN S ERVICE N ATIONAL EMPLOYEES IN OUR OVERSEAS MISSIONS SOUNDS LIKE A NO - BRAINER . B UT THERE ARE REAL DOWNSIDES TO THE IDEA . B Y M ICHAEL B RICKER W Michael Bricker, an FS-1 information management officer in London, joined the Foreign Service in 1990. He has previously served in Warsaw, Monrovia, Seoul (twice) and New York, and recently received a master’s degree in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College. The views expressed here are those of the author only.