Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Ambassador James H. Michel
MICHEL: As a manager, I have given less thought to these personnel issues than might have been expected in light of my experience. I am not sure that I could draw a cause and effect relationship between the Act and the availability and quality of people working in the organizations that I am managing or did manage.
Q: That is a very interesting comment. Does that suggest that a manager does that the best he or she can with what tools he is provided and does not worry to any great degree about how it came about.
MICHEL: The two alternatives that you mentioned are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The manager does seek to attract the best people and tries to do the best job he or she can with the people available. That takes priority. Thinking about why the system has assigned this or that person to his or her office and whether because of that assignment the system is good or bad, is just something most managers don't have time for. You don't have the luxury of wondering whether you might get better people if the Act of 1946 were still in effect. That seems a little esoteric when you are trying to get a job done.
Now there have been individual cases which illustrated issues that had been viewed as systemic when the Act of 1980 was developed. But they had to be dealt with in the work place as individual matters. After the passage of the Act, good officers were subjected to the “time in class” requirements that had been allowed, prior to the 1980 Act, to atrophy. The notion of “selection out” had all but disappeared by 1980. There was multi-year “time in class” for the top three grades of the Foreign Service which was in excess of twenty years. It was not difficult for anyone who reached one of these grades to be assured a career until retirement. In effect, if an officer got promoted to the senior ranks, he or she could be almost assured of not being “selected out”. The Act of 1980 tried to bring some greater balance into the system so that younger officers could hope for promotions while providing some greater assurance and stability for people who had demonstrated ability and who had moved up in the ranks. The Act introduced the notion of “limited career extensions” which permitted officers to continue employment, but the assurance of a further twenty year career was terminated. Sometimes, in individual cases, you might see a good officer fail to reach the level necessary for continued employment because in part at least the group of officers against which he competed might have been particularly outstanding. That officer, by happenstance, might be competing for a “career extension” with other officers who were all assistant secretaries or ambassadors while he was only at that point in his career an office director. He could have been the best office director in the Department, but because of the assignment process, he would not be competitive with his particular set of colleagues against whom he was being measured.