Broadening and Deepening STH Competence Within the Department of State
Given the increased number of STH-related issues reaching the diplomatic agenda and the growing complexity of the technical considerations, the Department faces the challenges of broadening and of deepening the STH competence of officials handling STH-related issues. The need for STH competence in Washington and in embassies and missions can be most realistically met through a deliberate mixed strategy that deploys both a limited number of specialized STH experts in several personnel categories and a large number of FSOs and other "generalists" who have acquired a minimum level of STH competence. In the long term, the objective should be a broadly based "STH-capable" Department.
This approach emphasizes a large number of officials who can recognize the importance of STH considerations and know when and where to seek expert advice. Such a broadly based appreciation of the relevance of STH developments to foreign policy and the ability to obtain appropriate advice when necessary are preferable to past approaches, which have placed excessive reliance on a relatively small number of STH specialists operating amidst large staffs of FSOs and civil servants with limited STH perspectives. STH-content issues are simply too pervasive to expect that specialists will always be available to recognize or handle them. Indeed, action officers in Washington and overseas (primarily FSOs) will usually be the trip wires that signal the need for mobilizing STH expertise. Of course, specialists with strong technical backgrounds will still be needed
throughout the Department and at key embassies and missions, not only to support the generalists but also to assume leadership on particularly complex issues. Furthermore, specialists with strong STH credentials and experience can provide an important interface with the broader STH communities in the United States and abroad.
The following recommendation addresses one crucial aspect of the mixed generalist-specialist strategy:
Recommendation: The Department's leadership should expect all FSOs and other officials of the Department to achieve a minimum level of STH literacy and awareness relevant to foreign policy while stimulating attention to STH throughout the Department by establishing promotion and career incentives for successful service in STH-related positions.1
This recommendation recognizes that the goal of the mixed strategy will be embraced throughout the Department only if STH competence is widely viewed as a career-enhancing asset (i.e., STH-related assignments are recognized as stepping stones to advancement to senior positions within the Department). Implementation of this recommendation requires a comprehensive approach within the personnel system involving the recruitment, assignment, training, and promotion aspects of the careers of Department officials. Working out the details may be difficult in view of the different categories of personnel positions involved in STH-related activities and the different personnel rules within each category. Also, there may be reservations within the Department about attempting to accommodate special needs to address STH issues when there are also needs for specialized skills and sensitivities related to other issues (e.g., labor concerns). Nevertheless, given the stakes involved, the Department should develop a comprehensive approach for implementing a mixed STH personnel strategy over the long term.
At present, the staffing of positions designated as "STH positions" in Washington and at U.S. embassies and missions to international organizations involves officials with different educational backgrounds, different levels of relevant experience, and different types of job classifications. STH positions are filled by FSOs, Foreign Service Reserve Officers (FSRs),
FSNs, civil service officers, political appointees, rotators from other departments and agencies, detailees from academic institutions and government laboratories, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) fellows, Presidential Management Interns, part-time government retirees, and probably other categories. A limited number of FSOs and civil servants are trained in one or more areas of STH. Some highly trained civil servants have been recruited from other Departments and agencies, government laboratories, and academic institutions as midlevel officers. Almost all AAAS fellows and some Presidential Management Interns have strong STH competence, although there have been financial limitations on the number of such positions.2
This personnel situation has evolved largely by happenstance. Each senior manager responsible for STH-related activities obviously wants to have the best staff that he or she can assemble. The manager attempts to attract the highest-quality and most appropriate talent given personnel ceilings, encumbered positions, financial limitations, and different levels of administrative hassle associated with different types of appointments. As a result, some incumbents handling issues with STH content are very well qualified for their assignments, whereas others are not well suited for dealing with technical issues.
Recruitment and assignment of personnel for STH positions other than FSOs are largely decentralized, with each bureau relying on its own budget, its assigned personnel ceiling, and its space and equipment capabilities to support such positions. Recruitment and assignment of FSOs are centralized; many different bureaus are involved in the assignment process to varying degrees, depending in large measure on the priority that a bureau attaches to recruiting specific FSOs of interest.
The committee supports the concept of drawing on a variety of personnel categories in responding to specialized needs for addressing STH-related issues, a policy being implemented by the Department's Bureau of Personnel. The appropriate balance of categories in any specific office depends on many factors, including the availability of skills within the Foreign Service. However, the Bureau of Personnel is concerned over the current balance in some offices. For example, during the past decade the
professional staff of OES has been transformed from 70 percent FSOs to 30 percent FSOs, which in the view of the Bureau of Personnel represents too great a shift. As OES responsibilities in the environmental area increased and the staff expanded, OES hired new civil servants for specialized positions with declining attention to opportunities for FSOs to serve in the bureau. Rotating larger numbers of FSOs through OES would certainly be valuable in diffusing STH experience within the Foreign Service, if the FSOs were appropriately trained to assume their responsibilities within OES.
THE CENTRAL ROLE OF FOREIGN SERVICE OFFICERS
Whether formally classified as political, economic, consular, administrative, or public diplomacy officers, FSOs are increasingly called upon to handle issues laden with STH considerations. Although relatively few are assigned to designated STH positions, many spend considerable time addressing STH-related issues during their careers. To carry out these responsibilities effectively, a minimum level of STH literacy is needed throughout the Foreign Service. At present, few FSOs have strong educational backgrounds in STH disciplines, and of those who do have technical degrees, many have shifted their focus to economics, language specialization, and other skills of greater interest to the Department in recent years. At the same time, most FSOs have impressive capabilities to learn quickly, particularly when faced with operational decisions.
Some junior FSOs have well-honed information technology skills. Others have entered the Foreign Service with a keen awareness of global issues, including the implications of STH factors that are shaping economic, technological, environmental, health, agricultural, and other national and international developments. These are important personal qualifications that will contribute to increased recognition within the Foreign Service of the importance of STH developments. The Department should give greater attention to seeking such skills among new FSOs.
However, current recruitment procedures remain heavily oriented toward specialists in history, economics, international relations, area studies, and other fields that are normally very distant from STH curricula. The FSO examination does not effectively screen applicants for even a minimum level of STH literacy. Questions that discern awareness of contemporary developments in STH, as well as major events in American and world history that have been influenced by STH discoveries and applications, are appropriate for the Foreign Service entrance examina-
tion. Surely, new entrants, and indeed all FSOs, should have some familiarity with the agricultural and pharmaceutical implications of recent advances in biotechnology, the environmental and health aspects of increased reliance on fossil fuels, and the capability of the electronic networks that are encircling the globe. The Director General of the Foreign Service could easily draw on the U.S. STH communities for suggestions as to modification of the examination to reflect the impact of such STH developments in international affairs.
Also, the Department could expand its targeted recruitment efforts to include STH departments of universities, national laboratories, and other organizations with concentrations of STH-literate professionals. The recruitment brochures used by the Department to attract applicants for the Foreign Service should give greater attention to the increasing importance of STH and the opportunities to have individuals with these skills apply them in international public service, particularly careers in the Foreign Service.
At the same time, the Department's experiment with more flexible entrance procedures is commendable. The current recruitment effort to fill 25 junior FSO positions with civil servants who are already serving within the government will probably include some new entrants with well-developed STH skills.
Once recruited, an FSO with serious STH interests should have the opportunity for a meaningful career that builds on but is not restricted to these interests. Of special importance are opportunities for assignments in STH-related positions and for advancement to the highest ranks of the Foreign Service. Also, there is a need for training and retraining so that STH capacity can be kept current with new developments.
As previously noted, an STH-related assignment is seldom considered by senior Department officials to be a career-enhancing activity for an FSO seeking to rise to the level of Ambassador or Deputy Chief of Mission. Nevertheless, many STH-related issues are intellectually challenging, and assignments to handle these issues can frequently provide opportunities to participate in important international negotiations, an activity that is viewed throughout the Foreign Service as contributing to career development. Some FSOs have willingly accepted, and at times eagerly sought, STH-related assignments, and a few have established strong reputations as highly effective officers in these positions.
Serious setbacks to the perceived importance of STH competence in the Foreign Service occurred with the abolishment of the personnel cone for science and technology specialists and the assignment of FSOs with
weak STH backgrounds to almost all of the Science Counselor positions in U.S. embassies and missions to international organizations during the mid-1990s. These actions have sent a strong signal that STH competence is not an important asset for FSOs. Indeed, it may be a handicap in the assignment and promotion systems if the affected FSOs have sacrificed the development of other essential skills such as competence in foreign languages in favor of strengthening personal capabilities to handle STH-related issues.
The committee does not recommend re-establishment of the science and technology cone, which was generally considered within the Department as a compartment for specialists who were outside the mainstream of foreign policy and therefore not serious candidates for senior leadership assignments. Moreover, such a compartmentalized approach could inhibit the diffusion of STH competence throughout the Foreign Service. A practical difficulty was the small size of the science and technology cone, namely, no more than approximately 30 FSOs. Since there were hundreds of FSOs in each of several other cones, only a small percentage of the available promotion slots were open to science and technology specialists. They often felt slighted, while some colleagues in other cones thought the competition among science and technology specialists was not as intense as within their cones. Now, with small cadres of FSOs specializing in diplomatic security, labor affairs, narcotics, and other fields requiring specialized skills, the establishment of many small cones is not considered practical. However, other types of personnel actions that stress the importance of STH skills, including those recommended in this report, are needed in the wake of abolishing the cone. Designation of a well-qualified specialist in the Bureau of Personnel with explicit responsibilities for STH career development could be one useful step in this regard. This specialist should be in a good position to learn from approaches taken by private firms and nonprofit organizations as to policies for specialists operating in generalist-oriented organizations.
Bureaus with special responsibilities for STH-related issues often seek out with STH backgrounds for specific assignments. However, the bureaus seldom encourage these FSOs to maintain and use their competencies over an extended period. Indeed, the committee received reports of FSOs with significant STH competence being discouraged from remaining in STH-related assignments lest they jeopardize their promotion potential. Furthermore, the bureaus seldom make special efforts to ensure that FSOs who perform well in STH assignments receive attractive follow-on assignments. This approach contrasts with the approaches of several geographic bureaus, which seek to rotate throughout the region over many years a large number of outstanding FSOs with area competence.
Finally, most FSOs aspire to the level of Deputy Chief of Mission or Ambassador, positions that frequently require a level of STH competence. Unfortunately, relatively few have been seriously engaged with STH-related issues, and they are not in a good position to weigh the relative foreign policy import of STH developments. Therefore, the Department should consider establishing a requirement that each FSO who is en route to a senior position must have experience in addressing STH or other global issues. For example, candidates for Ambassador and Deputy Chief of Mission positions could be required to have completed an assignment handling global issues prior to selection for the most senior positions. This requirement would be a loud and clear signal that such issues, including STH-related issues, are important and have become core concerns of the Department.
High-performing FSOs interested in having STH-oriented careers should have reasonable expectations that they can rise to the ambassadorial level. They, like all FSOs, should begin with a broad exposure to Foreign Service challenges and finish with assignments as Deputy Chiefs of Mission and then Ambassadors. In between, their career paths would have many variations, including both STH and non-STH assignments.
Promotions and Rewards
As indicated in the previous section, a key motivating factor for FSOs to become interested in STH-related assignments is the existence of a personnel system that leads to career rewards for successful service in such posts. A significant indicator to FSOs of the importance of STH competence is the promotion scorecard for FSOs who have served in STH assignments. The outcome of the promotion panels is heavily dependent on the precepts that are prepared for the panels and by the composition of the panels. In both areas the Department should ensure that the importance of STH competence is adequately addressed.
A specific suggestion is that the Director General include representatives of the STH community with broad experience among the "outside members" of selection panels. These outside members could provide perspective on the significance of STH-related achievements and the potential of individual FSOs to address foreign policy issues with STH content in the future. Scientific, engineering, and medical societies are in a good position to identify particularly well-qualified retirees who could commit six weeks to such an assignment.
Directly related to the work of the promotion panels, of course, are the requirements for preparing personnel evaluations. The instructions for preparing such evaluations should include consideration of the achievements of FSOs in identifying and developing responses to long-
term problems, including STH-related issues, which are often given short shrift due to the high visibility of near-term crises.
Special awards are also ways to recognize performance. For example, the past practice of giving awards for outstanding environmental, science, and technology reporting is important. However, separate awards should be given for environmental reporting, which is perceived as high priority throughout the Department and often dominates the competitions, and for reporting on other aspects of STH, which may be in need of greater attention.
Many aspects of STH-related issues are not easily understood by FSOs who have not had the benefit of scientific or engineering training. Concepts of scientific uncertainty, for example, are often unfamiliar, and factoring such uncertainty into assessments of foreign policy options is not an easy task for even technically trained and politically attuned specialists. Further, there are large and diverse STH communities in the United States and in most other countries. Although specialists with STH training usually become accustomed to reaching out to colleagues in government and the private sector when seeking information and support relevant to their activities, few FSOs are familiar with the activities and capabilities of these communities, which can be a strong handicap for newcomers to STH activities.
In comparison to training programs of industry and the military services, the Department's programs are quite weak except with regard to language training. Even highly effective programs that are offered may be compromised by management decisions that give low priority to training for FSOs who, in the view of supervisors, are needed to fulfill immediate operational responsibilities. The committee recognized that the Department faces budget constraints that limit the availability of replacements for officers in training. However, there seems to be a general bias within the Foreign Service against specialized training courses on the grounds that FSOs are always learning on the job. Neither of these factors is an acceptable reason for maintaining a less than comprehensive training system for all Department employees, including training in STH subjects. The military services and many companies have greatly reduced their staffs over the last decade but have continued to emphasize training. Also, industry has learned that on-the-job training, while important, is not adequate in many respects, particularly with regard to opportunities for midlevel managers to interact with top management in informal settings. This experience should serve as a guide for the Department.
FSI has good capabilities to provide STH-related training for FSOs—
as supplemental modules for broader training programs and as intensive courses limited to STH concerns. Training at FSI is usually well organized and offers considerable promise in elevating FSO sensitivity to STH developments. FSI leadership is aware of STH training limitations of the past and is interested in developing a broadened set of offerings, including part-time courses that do not take individuals completely away from their jobs.
The STH content of the A-100 course for all new FSOs, the economics training program, the Deputy Chief of Mission preparatory course, and the Senior Seminar for FSOs picked for top-level assignments could easily be expanded and tailored to stimulate greater interest in STH developments as they interrelate to foreign policy. Courses in fields such as security, terrorism, and foreign assistance also could include appropriate modules on STH considerations. With regard to self-education, FSI could further develop electronic bookmarks and other distance-learning techniques to help FSOs stay abreast of relevant STH developments on a timely basis.
Seminars that bring together Department personnel with explicit STH responsibilities and FSOs who are not serving in STH-oriented assignments could help develop more meaningful communications and cooperative working relationships within the Department. Included in issue-oriented seminars should be personnel from both the regional bureaus and the functional bureaus and offices such as INR and S/P. These seminars should help encourage the bureaus and offices to work together in identifying slowly evolving issues and in considering how they affect bilateral and multilateral diplomacy and programs.
Finally, several universities offer a rich combination of advanced degree study, including political science and STH-related subjects. For a few outstanding FSOs, the opportunity for a semester or year of advanced STH/political science training could prepare them well for senior positions requiring special STH competence. Such extramural training would also send a powerful signal throughout the Department about the value of STH competence.
CIVIL SERVICE OFFICIALS
Civil service personnel fill many key STH-related positions in the Department. Some have been in their positions for 10 or more years and have developed extensive knowledge of the activities for which they are responsible. Others have been recruited recently and bring with them fresh technical perspectives on important issues. Most are in relatively senior positions. In particular, many office director positions are filled by civil servants.
In time, STH-capable FSOs should increasingly be able to assume responsibilities currently handled by civil servants. However, there will be a continuing need for highly specialized civil servants in the years ahead. Appropriate personnel policies are necessary to ensure that civil servants who are particularly well qualified to address STH-related issues also have the opportunity to advance to the senior ranks within the Department and overseas.
Meanwhile, a particular problem is that many civil service personnel remain indefinitely in their positions and thus close off potentially attractive assignments for FSOs interested in STH developments, although most FSOs would require training to be able to handle the responsibilities involved. A second concern is that, due to pressures within the office, civil service officials, like FSOs, are often reluctant to take time off for training to help ensure that they are up to date on developments relevant to their responsibilities.
As civil servants leave their positions through retirement or for other reasons, opening these positions to competition involving both FSOs and non-FSOs would encourage FSOs to look more seriously at career options in STH areas. To be sure that FSOs are not at a disadvantage in these competitions, which usually call for familiarity with technical issues, their STH qualifications could include a three-month training course tailored to the needs of the position with the course customized by FSI. At the same time, non-FSOs seeking these positions should have the opportunity to attend a foreign policy orientation course at FSI if they are selected for the positions so that they too would not be at a disadvantage in the competitions.
A few civil servants, particularly in PM, take advantage of opportunities to stay abreast of developments in their technical fields through participation in programs organized by the Department of Defense and other departments and agencies. This practice is very healthy and should be encouraged throughout the Department. The FSI might give special attention to how such training activities could be most effectively organized and promoted on a broad basis.
An important source of recruitment for civil servants with specialized skills and experience in dealing with foreign policy issues has been the pool of AAAS fellows selected for one-year assignments to the Department, particularly OES. In most cases during their tenure as fellows, they have exhibited a high level of STH competence of relevance to the issues confronting the Department, and they have quickly adjusted to departmental work. In some instances, they have received civil service appointments within the Department and have become important permanent staff members. Given this excellent track record of the program both in providing temporary coverage of important issues and in serving as a
recruitment pipeline, the Department, in consultation with the AAAS and other scientific, engineering, and medical organizations, should consider how this type of program could be expanded.
Finally, over the years, ACDA has recruited many highly qualified technical specialists; and a number of these specialists have recently been incorporated into the bureaus under the Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security. Since these bureaus already had a significant number of technical personnel, there may be technical talent that could be used in other bureaus of the Department.
Some ACDA specialists were recruited under special hiring authority available to the agency. This authority was very important in attracting specialized skills to address critical technical aspects of important arms control issues, and the authority has recently been transferred to the Department. The Department should broadly utilize as necessary the special hiring authority that has been transferred to it from ACDA to recruit highly qualified specialists, generally for terms of one to four years. This authority, together with the other authorities previously available to the Department, provides considerable flexibility for achieving the personnel goals proposed in this report.
Modern information technology (IT) systems provide opportunities for broadening and deepening the Department's STH competence as discussed earlier in this chapter. The development of modern IT systems in the Department is essential for the conduct of diplomacy in the years ahead. Modern systems are also essential to the full implementation of many of the recommendations in this report. Obsolete IT systems within the Department and at embassies and missions abroad greatly hamper the efforts of employees to improve productivity, communicate effectively with governmental and nongovernmental organizations, and use Internet resources in many areas, including STH.
The Department has recently developed and begun to implement an impressive five-year plan for upgrading its worldwide IT systems. A highly qualified Chief Information Officer, with the rank of assistant secretary, has been recruited to lead this effort. As an early achievement, he and his staff succeeded in changing the Department's report card prepared by government auditors for year 2000 compliance from an F in February 1999 to an A- by May 1999.3
The Department's IT plan is designed to (1) ensure year 2000 compliance, (2) improve security as necessary, (3) provide Internet access for personnel in the United States and abroad, (4) train users, and (5) put in place a program of continuous improvement and maintenance. OES is being used as an "IT test bed" for prototyping systems and policies. The IT modernization program should ease the integration of USIA and ACDA into the Department because these agencies are at present far better equipped than the Department with up-to-date IT systems and software. Prompt implementation of the IT five-year plan should also improve the job satisfaction of many young Department employees who have grown up in the information age.
Modern IT systems are well suited for facilitating distance learning—a useful approach for FSOs, civil servants, and specialized STH staff who have difficulty committing to specific training schedules but who would like to participate in training programs from remote sites (either in formal programs of FSI and other providers or informally through the Internet). As a stimulus to encourage greater use of this important technology, those FSOs who successfully complete Internet- or other computer-based self-taught training programs in STH fields should be recognized in their personnel evaluations or in other ways.
Also, embassy personnel with STH responsibilities should have ready access to many online STH resources, including information on the reports, activities, and interests of a variety of U.S. departments and agencies with STH interests. In addition, there are vast resources in the published official statistics of many countries, often with useful historical depth, that should be available to FSOs and other analysts at a mouse click.
Institutional reluctance to accept new IT technologies could be a significant barrier to successful implementation of the five-year plan. Some employees, conditioned by Cold War security requirements and a hierarchical diplomatic clearance process developed many years ago, may not be entirely comfortable with the open access and flexibility that modern IT systems provide. A second difficulty that afflicts many long-term government procurement programs will undoubtedly be encountered in sustaining the multiyear IT procurement through cycles of annual appropriations, changes of administration, and changes in Congress. Thus, the following recommendation is particularly important:
Recommendation: The Secretary, the Administration, and Congress should ensure that the Department's five-year information technology modernization plan stays on course and is fully funded for its successful implementation and also for necessary ongoing maintenance and upgrades.
There is no better example of the impact of STH developments on the development and implementation of foreign policy than IT systems. Whether they are used to enhance the internal processes of the Department, to expand outreach to constituencies and information sources around the world, or to offer new opportunities for increasing the skill levels of diplomats and other personnel, they are clearly transforming the art of diplomacy and powerfully affecting the international issues nations must confront.