Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Ambassador James H. Michel
MICHEL: I must admit now that there may not be a right solution. In the 1980 Act, the decision was made to retreat from the trends of the 60s and 70s which was to encourage Civil Service employees to join the Foreign Service. The 1980 Act was intended to enhance the role of the Civil Service work-force in the Department recognizing that lawyers, historians, some Congressional relations experts, financial management experts and other categories as well as support staff were not really working for the Department with the intention of serving abroad and had no ambition to be mobile. They had chosen the Department of State over some other domestic agency or private employer based in the United States; their alternative employer was not an overseas establishment, but some other employer in the United States. I still carry with me some lingering thoughts that it would be nice if the Department had a single personnel system, but I recognize that there are a lot of practical obstacles which we have seen in past attempts. The ideal of a single system is certainly a worthy one, but it is not practical. At one time, there was a suggestion that a distinction be made in the retirement system by making eligibility in the Foreign Service system dependent on overseas service, but that all employees of the Department be made part of the same system with one grade structure rather than having two classification systems which results in people working in the same office under differing rules and criteria. As I have moved away from direct involvement in personnel issues, I have become less convinced that there is a right answer. The Department can be managed with two personnel systems with appropriate attention being devoted to the needs of both Civil Service and Foreign Service employees. On the other hand, a single system could be instituted which would distinguish in its implementation between the people who are in the classical Foreign Service Officer model, who enter at the bottom and expect advancement to more senior level through a variety of assignments and experiences, and those who enter through a narrower range of anticipated careers while serving in one location in the United States. There will be difficulties and imperfections in either choice of single or plural systems.
Q: You have just mentioned the Foreign Service Act of 1980. What were your responsibilities in the 1979/80 period?
MICHEL: I was the Deputy Legal Advisor. While in that job, in the late 70s, a process was initiated which originally had been intended to look at the “Foreign Service structure”. A lot of discussions were held among senior Departmental officials and in the Foreign Service on that subject which went on for quite a while. Eventually, some clear options became to emerge; people began to think in terms of developing some new legislation to implement the chosen options. It was at this stage that I got drawn into the process, which was about 1978. Ben Read was then the Under-secretary for Management.
Q: What was driving the Department at that time to submit new legislation?