The Foreign Service Journal, June 2023

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JUNE 2023 13 LETTERS-PLUS Meritocracy at State and the Foreign Service ExamAre Not Incompatible BY JAMES JEFFREY RESPONSE TO MARCH 2023 FOCUS ARTICLE, “MERITOCRACY AT STATE: WHO DESERVES WHAT” James Jeffrey retired from the Foreign Service in 2012 with the rank of Career Ambassador. He served, among other assignments, as deputy national security adviser and as U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Turkey (now Türkiye), and Albania. He was recalled in 2018 for 27 months as chief of mission in Syria and Special Representative to Defeat the ISIS Coalition. F oreign Service Officer Marshall Sherrell ( “Meritocracy at State: Who Deserves What, ” March 2023 FSJ ) deserves credit for raising a controversial Foreign Service issue, the recent changes in valu- ation of the generalist exam (officially: Foreign Service Officer Test, or FSOT), and he reminds us that the way any FSO enters the Service is of no relevance once in. Still, I cannot agree with his point that we do not need an FSOT pass require- ment to help select new FSOs, and I come to different conclusions than he does on the exam as a “rigid fixture” versus argu- ably more effective subjective criteria, on its negative impact on diversity, and on the “who merits being chosen” question. But first, as with any discussion of FSO personnel issues, we should pose the question: For what purpose does the United States have a Foreign Service officer corps? Mr. Sherrell, apart from describing the Service as “aspirational” and practicing “nontraditional” diplo- macy, doesn’t address this. Neither the Bureau of Global Talent Management (GTM) nor, beyond tight limits, FSOs themselves define the ends of the Service. Rather, the American people, who pay for us through Congress, and administration leaders do that. Two Unique Components Congress has legislated a Service with two unique components. First, the Service is explicitly modeled on military officer personnel, not Civil Service, prac- tice—with rank in the officer, not in the position—and a competitive promotion and assignment system with “up or out” characteristics that are at times brutal. (I know having crossed the senior thresh- old only on my last, sixth attempt.) Second, it has a Senior Foreign Service (SFS) proportionally many times larger in comparison to the entire FSO corps than seen with the military or Civil Service. Generalist SFS officers make up about 10 percent of the total generalist officer corps of around 8,000; Army general offi- cers make up less than 3 percent of the approximately 100,000 active-duty Army officers (according to 10 U.S.C. § 526 and 10 U.S.C. § 521). The Foreign Service has almost three times as many SFS officers in numerical terms than the Army has general officers! The intent is obvious. While doing the routine of diplomatic work from issuing visas to following host country develop- ments to managing installations, the Foreign Service has as its main mission to develop and deploy senior diplomatic personnel to implement our country’s foreign policy, including a handful help- ing to formulate it. Otherwise, we would save the tax- payer oodles of money with an almost entirely mid-level Service with a handful of seniors to supervise more or less rou- tine work. The stress that GTM places on management responsibilities can’t justify such a rank structure; after all, 26-year- old FS-4-equivalent Army captains com- mand 150-soldier companies. Rather, policy expertise and policy implementa- tion justify it. Policy Expertise at the Center Presidents and secretaries expect just this. At any given time, roughly 100 FSOs are presidential appointees serving as ambassadors or assistant secretaries. In the last 40 years, FSOs have been