As a retired Foreign Service Officer, I want to call to your attention the rapid depletion of the ranks of the State Department Foreign Service under the Trump administration. Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, the president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), recently wrote an open letter in the Foreign Service Journal calling attention to the problem. By Washington standards, the Foreign Service is a small organization. It is often said that there are fewer Foreign Service officers (about 6,000) than there are members of military bands. It will be difficult for the Foreign Service to recover from a mass exodus of senior Foreign Service officers.
I was pleased when President Trump named Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State, and to a certain extent I sympathize with his desire to reduce the size of government, but I do not think the small Foreign Service is the place to start drastic cuts. Good senior officers are important to the nation, as well as to the Foreign Service because of the skill and experience they bring from their years of dealing with foreign countries. When I was a junior officer I was fortunate to work with Ambassador Tom Pickering, who was one reason I decided to stay in the Foreign Service and make it a career. In Denver we have a senior FSO who has brought us his talent and experience, Ambassador Christopher Hill, the head of the Korbel School at Denver University.
I admit that I retired from the Foreign Service under similar circumstances in the 1990s. Under President Clinton, the US had promised multi-year funding for two projects I was working on, one in Poland and one involving North Korea. When Newt Gingrich brought in the House Republican majority, they cut off funding for both projects, despite America’s earlier promises. I was disappointed and ashamed of being called dishonest by foreign governments. Thus, I sympathize with the current retirees, but I think the US government should do something to keep a cadre of experienced Foreign Service officers. Otherwise, the US will suffer genuine losses in its future diplomatic dealings around the world.
I hope that you will do whatever you can to prevent further gutting of the Foreign Service.
Links to Ambassador Stephenson’s letter and to her appearance on the PBS NewsHour are below.