Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Ambassador James H. Michel
MICHEL: No, I do not. It seems to me that the Foreign Service system has been subjected to an awful lot of tinkering in the hopes that it could be perfected. We have just been discussing some of the anomalies of the system. The Foreign Service Officer Corps is a very a very special resource that the United States has. You can't entirely submerge Foreign Service officers into generalized personnel systems without losing some of their elan and esprit de' corps. Of course, my views area biased because I have been associated with the Foreign Service and its members for a long time, but I firmly believe that a general personnel system would be detrimental to the Foreign Service. Whatever system it is, however, it must be managed to preserve that special quality while at the same time taking into account the needs of a whole host of specialized resources available to the Department both at home and abroad. People have to work with systems, but if you are running an embassy, you want a “team” to support you; you don't want the members of that “team” to worry about whether they are officers or staff or whether they are Civil Service or Foreign Service or whether their home offices are the Department of Agriculture or the Department of Commerce or the Department of State. You don't want personnel issues to cause frictions or to distract people from the substantive work they have to perform. The personnel systems must function so that people feel that they are being treated fairly and so that managers have a sense that they have the personnel resources necessary to discharge their obligations. Therefore, personnel systems have to managed carefully and constantly, but I do not believe that upheavals or new Foreign Service Acts are necessary. The Act of 1980 as written is broad; it is susceptible to sound management; it strengthens participatory qualities of management by strengthening the labor-management sections; it does not constrain a lot of decision that could be taken in the implementation of the Act. That reinforces my view that constant management attention must be devoted to the personnel system, but I have no enthusiasm for another major study of “what is wrong with the Foreign Service”. The charter provided by the Act of 1980 should be adequate for any improvements that management may wish to make. There is no single perfect answer and that is evident by the long string of studies going back to the early part of this century, which I examined when I was working on these personnel issues and during my participation in a variety of intended reform activities that were sometimes wrenching.
Q: It is interesting to note that since World War II, there have been probably more studies of the Department of State and the Foreign Service than any other government agency that I know. Do you have any views why there is that constant feel for change in the personnel practices of the Department and the Foreign Service?