Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Ambassador James H. Michel
MICHEL: At that point in my career, I was impressed by the arguments that were being made within the Department of State in favor of the concept. Indeed, some of those influences have lingered. I was struck by the fact that people are seen differently and treated differently depending on to which personnel system they belong, regardless of their personal capabilities. There were different career paths, different advancement speeds depending on whether one was a Civil Service or a Foreign Service employee. One of the groups with whom we often met to discuss various issues were the Junior Foreign Service officers. I felt somewhat awkward being a Civil Service lawyer whose rate of promotion was considerably faster than for those belonging to the Foreign Service system. They waited for years before moving to the next level in the ladder. On the other hand, the expectation in the Department tended to be that the career ladder for the Civil Service employee peaked sooner than that of his or her Foreign Service counter-part. These differences did not necessarily have a rational basis and there was movement between the two systems by some people as a result of these differing standards and expectations. One system that would have accommodated different individuals with differing skills appeared to me to be ideal. The concept had some neatness and efficiency about it. For example, if there were two auditors who might be inspecting the financial records of a contractor, and if one was a Civil servant and the other a Foreign service member, they might travel under different regulations and standards which might result in differing travel allowances and reimbursement for each, even if they traveled on the same plane and stayed in the same hotel and returned together. Such possibilities seemed to be cumbersome and perhaps even unfair. In that light, a single system had its attractions.
Q: You have worked under both the Civil service and the Foreign Service systems. Have you ever felt that Civil Service employees had a status problem in the Department?
MICHEL: Yes, of course. The Civil Service work-force is supported by a relatively small staff in the central personnel office. This is in part a consequence of the rank-in-position system that is fundamental to the Civil Service. Perhaps under that system you don't need the same array of people to handle assignments as you need for the Foreign Service which is designed to be a mobile force with rank-in-person, available for re-assignment every three or four years. When you look at the array of career counselors, training programs, etc. there is clearly an orientation in the Department that favors the Foreign Service system over the Civil Service one.
Q: You have an opportunity to observe this problem both here in Washington and overseas. Did those experiences reinforce or weaken your views of many years ago when you supported a single personnel system for all employees of the Department of State?