The Foreign Service Journal, December 2007

a person to go and do something,” says Charles A. “Tony” Gillespie Jr., who served as ambassador to Grenada during the 1983 U.S. inva- sion. “The challenge is to make sure the voice of the United States is consistent and to make sure that agency heads understand that they are supposed to let the ambassador know of their programs and give him a chance to weigh in. Other- wise it’s very easy for someone in Washington to treat the embassy as their own foreign office.” The Senate Foreign Relations Committee report makes plain that challenges to ambassadorial authority continue to be a problem, especially in the Defense Department, which has in some cases openly questioned State’s role and even won congressional approval for its actions. A case in point, the report notes, is the Bush administration’s push to expand a stream of funding for security assistance in foreign countries, dubbed “Section 1206 assistance” in reference to the section of the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act under which the program was created. These funds flow directly through Defense rather than through the traditional channels for such aid controlled by State. They are used to train and equip foreign military forces. The growing DOD presence at many posts, the report said, is “placing new stresses on interagency coordination in the field.” And while “overlapping missions and inter- agency frictions are, for the most part, refereed by the U.S. ambassador and other State Department leadership in the embassy,” the committee investigators said they feared that Defense is showing signs of chafing under State leadership. The expansion of the Section 1206 program, com- bined with a ballooning DOD budget that continues to outpace funding increases at State, the report added, not only dwarfs State’s role but threatens to undermine U.S. foreign policy objectives, as military solutions gain promi- nence over diplomacy. Congress and the administration cannot continue “to undervalue the role of the civilian agencies if we want to ensure that our response to violent extremism is calibrated, supported by an appropriate mix of civilian and military tools,” then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., wrote in the report’s introduction. To reverse these alarming trends, the report added, Congress and the administration must increase State funding and more clearly delineate the authority of ambas- sadors. “This Worked for Me” In the meantime, though, it’s up to ambassadors to use their man- agement skills to make it clear that they are the president’s principal representatives at post. Former ambassadors say country team meetings are the perfect venue. The Foreign Service Institute’s handbook for new ambassadors, “This Worked for Me,” recom- mends that new ambassadors make it clear that the mis- sion is a team, “not a loose confederation of more or less independent entities.” The best ambassadors treat all agency officials as valuable team members and advocate for the best solutions to problems that arise, no matter from which agency they emerge. To reinforce the team concept, the guide recommends making ample use of interagency task forces and repeatedly stressing the need for full disclosure of agency initiatives. Ambassadors interviewed for this article shared sever- al other tricks of the trade they used to keep everyone on the same page. One tactic is to hold smaller meetings, where agency heads could discuss issues directly with the ambassador or deputy chief of mission. “I’d say to my defense attaché: this is your 30 minutes to talk to me about what you think I ought to know about your pro- grams,” recalls Steven Pifer, a career Foreign Service offi- cer and ambassador to Ukraine from 1998 to 2000. While that approach put agency heads on the spot, the sessions ultimately built good will, offering Pifer a chance to offer his personal assistance and that of the rest of the embassy staff to whatever project agency officials were pursuing. Delegation can be key, as is having a trusted No. 2, says David Greenlee, who recently retired from the Foreign Service after serving as ambassador to Bolivia. “If you have a big embassy, you can’t do everything, so you need good section chiefs and agency heads to make it work and you have to rely on them. If you’re going to get to the point in the Foreign Service where you are a counselor, you have something close to a Type A person- ality. You’re going to defend turf, and occasionally sparks F O C U S 22 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / D E C E M B E R 2 0 0 7 Involving non-State personnel in the working life of the embassy can also help head off any communication problems.