AFSA Survey Results: Comments on the U.S. Foreign Service and Secretary Rice's Leadership

January 9, 2008
AFSA Survey

Thomas Shannonis the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Also see comments by State Department SpokesmanSean McCormackand U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian AffairsRichard Boucher

I read with dismay the article in the Washington Post reporting on an AFSA survey which purported to show disappointment within the Foreign Service with Secretary Rice's leadership.

As any professional pollster will tell you, this kind of survey is imprecise and misleading. The survey does not include a representative sampling of the Foreign Service and it collates only the opinions of those who respond. It is a snapshot of a self-selecting group, and should not be understood to reflect the views of the nearly 12,000 members of the Foreign Service.

More to the point, it does not reflect my views. I have had the honor of working for Condoleezza Rice at the National Security Council and at State Department. She stands in the great tradition of George Marshall, George Shultz and Colin Powell as a Secretary committed to the State Department as an institution, the Foreign Service as an organization, and Foreign Service Officers as individuals.

Her confidence in the Foreign Service is expressed by her appointments: five out of the six regional assistant secretaries are Foreign Service Officers, myself included. It is expressed by her daily interactions: she has frequent contact with all levels of my Bureau; desk officers brief her before her trips, she meets with these same officers when she returns, she opens meetings to office directors and DASes, and she listens to and acts on the advice and guidance she receives. It is expressed by her outreach to our Embassies: she calls Ambassadors, reads and comments on cables, meets with Embassy staff and family members during her visits, and has used trips to hold sub-regional Chiefs of Mission conferences.

Finally, she has made the State Department the center of our foreign policy process. For those who care about the Foreign Service, nothing could be more important. None of us joined the Foreign Service because of salary, benefits, or locality pay. We joined because we want to serve our country and make a difference in the world. Under Secretary Rice's leadership, we are again at the helm. In the Western Hemisphere, the results are palpable and positive. I am proud to serve under such a fine person and a great Secretary of State.



District Of Columbia, USA
January 9, 2008

Dan in Washington, DC writes:

Assistant Secretary Shannon -- Thank you for your outstanding service to our nation, and for sharing your insights on this survey. I am a long-time Civil Service employee of the Department of State.

Concerning the AFSA survey results that are based upon the voluntary input of some 4,300 Foreign Service Offices (or about 35 percent of the FS ranks), seemingly at least some of this information might be useful to the Department and its leadership.

In this regard, I took note of your reference to former Secretary of State George Marshall ...As Secretary, Marshall once told his Deputy Secretary Dean Acheson that he expected "complete and even brutal candor; as he had no feelings '...except for those which he reserved for Mrs. Marshall.'" Acheson goes on to report that he and the Department were "...soon to test that broad statement."

Of course, perhaps also relevant to some aspects of these issues and discussions, Acheson (who became Secretary of State immediately following Marshall) also observed that he was on several occasions concerned about what he saw as "the self-inflicted wounds which impaired the standing of the State Department within the Government..." Continuing in this vein, Acheson wrote that there was an "issue between the bureaucracy and myself over where decisions should be made and command should lie. The attitude that presidents and secretaries come and go but the Department goes on forever has led many presidents to distrust and dislike the Department of State."

Missouri, USA
January 10, 2008

Peter in Missouri writes:

You are right that this survey portrays only the opinions of those who chose to participate, but when "nearly 4300 of the State Foreign Service" did so (according to the AFSA News story), that amount to over one third of the "almost 12,000 members of the Foreign Service."

In any organization, dissatisfaction on such a scale over issues such as those expressed in the AFSA story cannot be dismissed with a "it doesn't reflect my views" comment. In fact, such a comment is precisely the kind of attitude that the survey participants point to as problematic.

I do not doubt the dedication of the members of the Foreign Service. I do not think that they are well served, however, by senior leadership that dismisses their opinions so cavalierly.

On R.
January 12, 2008

OTR writes:

I am impressed that people like Mr. Shannon will go on the record to say that they love their boss. That is the kind of courage that must make a good diplomat.

United States
January 14, 2008

David in U.S. writes:

In order to conduct an effective counterinsurgency effort, in any area, there must be sufficient development and/or redevelopment efforts to convince local populations that they are receiving substantial benefit for all their many sacrifices. Such an effort requires development teams that have the necessary language(s), cultural skills, technical proficiency, diplomatic capability, and survival abilities to be successful working in high-risk areas. Secretary Rice seems to have neglected the development of sufficient numbers of such teams for Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. counterinsurgency efforts have suffered as a result. In very high-risk areas, Radio Schools should have been used to teach self-help and redevelopment skills, to local populations, without risking the safety of limited numbers of skilled development teams. For whatever reason, USAID and Secretary Rice ignored the need for such Radio Schools. After nearly five years of failure, U.S. Army Combat Engineers are being asked to help provide redevelopment efforts that USAID did not provide. Based upon my prior decade of counterinsurgency experience, in Vietnam and elsewhere, I conclude that our leadership has failed.

California, USA
January 14, 2008

S in San Francisco writes:

It sounds like the State Department has pretty serious leadership issues, and probably not at the top. First, obviously all surveys are imprecise. Yet a "sample" of over a third of one category of your employees should never be ignored, nor dismissed -- it lends credence (i.e. why would you be so defensive if there weren't some truth to it). The undercurrent I hear is concern over "looking out for the troops." If people are attributing that to senior management, than supervisors up and down the chain certainly are not doing a good job promoting policy. Likewise, in a high-trust environment, employees should know - without specific evidence - that their needs are ALWAYS being advocated -- even if behind closed-doors. State Department: Where is your trust? What are you doing to get it back? Senior people saying "the employees and union are wrong” and employees saying "my needs aren't being addressed" sounds like a very serious trust breakdown at many levels of supervision. It's not that hard: Support your command (i.e. department). Support your troops (i.e. employees).

January 15, 2008

Wes in Africa writes:

I find your comment "More to the point, it does not reflect my views" most telling. It seems that since you do not feel the same way the people who took the survey do, the whole survey should be dismissed. It may be that arrogance which the survey results speak to when they point out the lack of leadership.

Florida, USA
January 15, 2008

Leonard in Florida writes:

Your loyalty to the Secretary is impressive.

However, loyalty is a two-way street.

Where is your loyalty to and support for your Foreign Service subordinates?

Vermont, USA
January 18, 2008

Randy in Vermont writes:

I'm not so thrilled that Sec. Rice is at the helm. Let's look at some of her "accomplishments."

1. As Nat'l Security Advisor, received memo titled "OBM determined to strike in U.S.," just 5 weeks later we had 9-11;

2. Also as NSA, helped hasten us into unwise invasion and occupation of Iraq;

3. OMB still at large in early '08.

I think that's enough damage for one career. I'll be glad to see her back in Palo Alto.

January 28, 2008

Daniel in Germany writes:

I am writing from Germany and I would like to thank the American Foreign Service for their great job they are doing with regards to the VISA program and especially the Greencard program. If you are German and want to apply for a Greencard please check the website which aggregates almost all important facts around the application process.

Thank you again for this fantastic opportunity.

Greetings from Germany.

New York, USA
February 4, 2008

Dan in New York writes:

I am a Foreign Service Officer who had my employment terminated because I came down with a mental illness. I was ejected from the Foreign Service because of my disability. The poll results reflect the reality of the Foreign Service. The current leadership of the State Department routinely practices discrimination against people with stable medical conditions. Currently, a prospective Foreign Service Officer was denied a class 1 medical clearance because he had HIV. This case is currently in litigation and I really hope that this well qualified individual will be admitted into the Foreign Service. If I reapply to the Foreign Service, I will no doubt be able to pass the Foreign Service Exam again, but I will no doubt be denied a class 1 medical clearance. The State Department routinely lets in individuals that do not have class 1 medical clearances into the Foreign Service that senior leadership wants to let in. This happened quite frequently before the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative. Clear evidence exists that multiple people with Class 2 medical clearances were allowed into the Foreign Service. Also, family members that do not have class 1 medical clearances are accommodated by the State Department. Current State Department policy concerning this issue is discriminatory and against the Americans with Disabilities Act. In such an environment of discrimination, no wonder Secretary Rice's approval rating is so low. If Martin Luther King were alive today, he would also most likely voice disapproval.

Random F.
February 4, 2008

FSO in Laos writes:

I am sure Tom Shannon is a great guy (and hey--I want to work in his bureau!), but like so much official response his totally misses the point in trying to minimize what was said (1/3 does not matter? They still delivering the good stuff from Colombia?) and by pulling out the old chestnut "we did not join because of..." Tom--newsflash--I am willing to bet there are a wide variety of reasons why people joined. More importantly--in looking at the locality pay issue you are dismissing a real problem that has been highlighted for years as a problem. Now let's be clear. I loved Secretary Powell and D, but they never got this problem solved either, so piling on Sec. Rice for this particular issue strikes me as unfair. But it is a real problem--not only do you have other agencies--ones not known for their abilities--getting locality pay, you are killing your own incentive system. Maybe you did not join for pay, but why do we have hardship/danger differentials if not to incentivize people? 

Here is my suggestion--you donate enough of your pay to me to make up for the loss of locality pay. Since you state you did not join for locality pay, the loss of it should not be a problem. 

The package in the FS is quite good--no real complaints here because salary is not the #1 reason I joined the FS. But let's be clear--much as I love living overseas, I will not be willing continue taking larger and larger pay cuts in return for free housing, especially not with housing falling in DC to more affordable levels and career opportunities for my spouse so much better in the States. 

And you might really consider at least acknowledging that maybe the employees have a point. My god, I know we are crappy at teaching leadership (especially to the old crusty guys), but please, give it a shot.

And AFSA--maybe you should rethink your PR strategy, because something tells me most Americans that read about the survey and who see the unfortunate video CLIP are not going to be writing their Congressional reps to say "fund those diplomats!"

One of these days It'll be back to corporate finance. People are so much more honest about their motivations.


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