Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Ambassador James H. Michel
MICHEL: One of the things that we did try to do in 1980, and I believe it to have been an important aspect of the structure of the Foreign Service, was to talk about “members of the Foreign Service” in order to diminish the existing sharp distinction between Foreign Service officers and Foreign Service staff. The problem is even complicated overseas because some of the representatives of other agencies are Civil Service employees—e.g. the civilian employees of the Department of Defense. In managing an embassy, the objective has to be to submerge differences within the country team which may flow from people belonging to differing personnel systems—Foreign Service, military services, Civil Service. Differences may also arise because of agency identification; each agency represented in an embassy expects its employees to carry out its mission. That sometimes has a rather defined set of limits. That is not the way a coherent foreign policy can be conducted and part of an ambassador's responsibility is to soften the sharp delineations that agencies like to establish for their overseas activities. I used to tell people in my embassy that they should take their agency identification cards out of the breast pockets and put them in their back pockets and sit on them. They needed to put the United States objectives first and participate in the country team's efforts rather than serve exclusively or even primarily the narrower objectives of their home agency. That never flows all the way in one direction or another, but blurring the sharp identification of an individual so that he or she becomes a full member of the team is an important part of the management of a foreign service post.
Q: What is the situation in Washington? Do problems arise among individuals who work for you because they are members of different personnel systems?