• Diplomatic Diversity Fails (Again and Again) at State Department

    May 8, 2022 // 5 Comments »

    America’s diplomat corps is the latest victim of diversity uber alles. Choosing diplomats for the 21st century is now about the same process as choosing which gummy bear to eat next. But fear not, because the State Department assures us America will have “an inclusive workforce that… represents America’s rich diversity.” At issue is the rigorous entrance exam, which once established a color-blind base line of knowledge among all applicants and was originally instituted to create a merit-based entrance system.

    Until now, becoming an American diplomat started with passing a written test of geography, history, basic economics, and political science, the idea being it was probably good our diplomats knew something of all that. The problem was that racially things never quite added up; no matter what changes were made to the test or even if it was administered after an applicant had served two internships with State (below), blacks and other colors of persons could not pass in the right magic numbers. The answer? State has now simply done away with passing the test in favor of a “whole person” evaluation, similar to how many universities and the dead SAT gateway currently work.

    The irony is the test was instituted to avoid backroom decisions on color (and religion, education, and peerage.) When America first found itself in need of a real diplomatic corps in the 19th century, there were three qualifications: male, pale, and Yale. The Rogers Act of 1924 was the first attempt to even out the playing field, instituting a difficult written examination everyone had to pass. The Rogers Act also created the Board of the Foreign Service and the Board of Examiners to choose candidates in lieu of smoky back room conferences.

    But since the 1924 system never quite broke the hold of the Ivy League, a new law in 1946 Act closed down the Board of the Foreign Service Personnel and created the position of Director General to oversee a more fair system for recruitment and personnel. Yeah, you guessed it, that did not broaden diversity much either, so the present system of testing was rolled into place to fix everything via the Foreign Service Act of 1980. A tough written exam was to be followed by a tougher oral exam, all done blind — no one would know the background of the candidates or their race until the final steps. It did not work, at least in the sense people of color still seemed to lag statistically behind. So more interim steps were added, to include a series of personal essays (the “QEP”) to allow candidates to gain “life points” in addition to their performance on the tests. The written test was still retained as a threshold step. One had to pass it to move on to compete further for a coveted foreign service job.

    More help was on the way. Study guides were created, and flash cards sold online. Test prep courses were started. Outside psychologists were brought in, and test administration was turned over to a private company, all in the name of eliminating biases. None of it worked. Blacks sued the State Department. Women sued the State Department. Hispanics argued they were not treated fairly.  State created a Chief Diversity and Inclusion position. But still in 2013 the Senior Foreign Service, the top jobs at State, was 85 percent white. In 2021 it was 86 percent white. The broader diplomatic corps remained 80 percent white.  State stayed stubbornly undiverse.

    Where nothing else succeeded, State created two fellowships that have been used as vehicles to recruit people of “diverse backgrounds,” who worked out to be overwhelming black. In place are the Thomas Pickering Fellowship (run by HBCU Howard University) and the Charles B. Rangel Fellowship. Both claim entrants take the same entrance exams as anyone else, but omit that they do so after two summer internships with the State Department, plus assigned mentors. Fellows are also identified as such to those administering the oral exam required of all prospective diplomats. Having administered the oral exam myself, I knew I would have to justify to my boss’ boss any move to fail a Fellow before being overruled by her anyway. The programs increased the number of unwhite diplomats, as they were intended to do as a separate but equal pathway.

    The problems came down the road, when black diplomats encountered the same promotion and evaluation system their white, green, and blue colleagues did. Diversity in the senior ranks of the State Department actually regressed over time. In 2008, black diplomats made up about 8.6 percent of the top ranks of the diplomatic corps. By 2020 only 2.8 percent of the same top ranks are black. The answer? It must be more racism (characterized diplomatically as “institutional barriers.”) Suggestions focused on offering blacks more fellowships to create a bigger pool, and creating special opportunities for blacks to snag better assignments (described as “promote diverse officers’ career development.”) That of course simply repeats the original sin of pushing less-prepared people upward to their point of failure. FYI: the State Department classifies most of its gender and race promotion results and does not generally release them to the public. However, data leaked to the NYT shows that only 80 black diplomats and specialists were promoted in the 2019 fiscal year, about one percent.

    So under Joe Biden, the next step seemed obvious: do away with the threshold examination. Under new rules, everyone who takes the test goes on to the next stage, no matter if they do well, or poorly (formerly known as “failing.”) State has taken its hiring process full-circle, when again behind closed doors someone decides who moves forward based on race. State will thus absolutely ensure the right blend of flavors get through. So not the best of the best, but the best in each racial bucket, will pass. While a university has four years to try and educate or drop an unqualified candidate wrongly admitted, State will live with the mistakes these unqualified applicants make globally. As will America. Good luck everybody!

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Nobody Asked Hillary Last Night About the Messed Up Veterans Hiring Preferences at Her State Department

    September 8, 2016 // 4 Comments »




    Last night’s MSNBC Commander-in-Chief Forum featured two candidates who couldn’t be more in love — with “The Troops.”


    The troops were spoken of as if they were a they, maybe that group huddled outside smoking or something. Both Trump and Clinton made it clear they are ready to do anything to support the troops. Good, we owe the troops a lot for having to take the big hits for some dumb foreign policy decisions.

    But it is only Hillary who cites her “experience,” so let’s take a look at that. Specifically, during the years she was secretary of state, how did her organization implement veterans preferences in hiring new Foreign Service Officers (FSOs; America’s diplomats)?

    Bottom Line Up Front: Vets got the short end of the stick at State.


    Veterans preference as we talk about it here is a set of laws and regulations within the Federal government that gives eligible veterans preference in hiring over many other applicants. In accordance with Title V, United States Code, Section 2108 (5 USC 2108), veterans’ preference eligibility is based on dates of active duty service, receipt of a campaign badge, Purple Heart, and/or a service-connected disability. It can get complicated, but the basic idea is to give vets a leg up in the hiring process over other applicants.

    While most Federal agencies apply a points-based preference system to veterans right at the time of first application, where it will do the most good, Hillary’s State Department said no. Her leadership basically negated most of the preference and all of the goal, as well as maintaining several vet-unfriendly policies.


    State’s FSO hiring process is slow, employing a number of steps/hurdles to thin down a large pool of wannabe-diplomats. Let’s see how it handles vets.

    FSOs are not political appointees, but rather professional career positions. The steps to are pass a long written exam, then if you do that pass an essay test (“QEP”), then if you do that pass a full-day oral exam, then if you do that pass medical, security and “suitability” tests. The few applicants left at that point are placed on a register, a rank ordered list based on intended job title. So a person who makes it through all of the hurdles can end up number 23 on the list of future economic officers. If State only needs 22 people, you’re SOL my friend. Usually 18 months after entering the list, if you aren’t hired, you’re dropped and can do nothing more than start over.

    The thing that dilutes the concept of veterans preference to the max is that it is only applied by State at that very, very last step, the rank ordering.

    In other words, the vet gets no preference for the written test, the essay test, the oral test, and the medical, security or suitability tests. During those s/he competes with the masses of college students who typically make up the applicant pool.

    State’s veterans preference basically amounts to “not much.”


    There’s more.

    On November 9, 2009, Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13518, Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government, which established the Veterans Employment Initiative. The Initiative is a strategic approach to helping the men and women who have served our country in the military find employment in the Federal Government. State’s contribution? All of an aging website populated with generic links.

    Oh, sorry, State also set up an online forum for vets. There are all of nine threads. To the extend that State answers inquiries, the responses are generic links or suggestions to email someone else.

    As you can imagine, the process for all applicants to become an FSO takes a l-o-n-g time, 12-18 months for most. In order to have a job when s/he leaves the service, a military person has to figure out a way to do all those required steps while still in the military. Maybe not so hard if you’re stationed to a Navy facility outside Washington, DC, real hard if you’re sitting in the sh*t in Afghanistan.

    And that oral exam? Needs to be done only in person on an assigned day, and almost always at a single location in Washington. College kids hop on the bus from Boston; military folks, well, hopefully First Sergeant will loan you his frequent flyer miles to get there.

    State also does not offer any special credit for foreign languages earned in the service, even with a Department of Defense official score, over another applicant self-reporting her wonderfulness in Chinese. Same for any military skills, included very applicable things such as intelligence work, civil affairs, judge advocate and the like. State loves to talk about the value of leadership skills, but does not offer vets any special treatment even if they’ve lead a brigade in combat. Nope, same line for everyone, take your place in the back, soldier.


    BOTTOM LINE TIME: What did Hillary do as secretary of state for the troops? Not a hell of a lot.

    And here’s Hillary with some troops she really loves, Libyans:




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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State

    Should I Join the Foreign Service?

    May 19, 2012 // 7 Comments »

    (A version of this article appeared recently on the Huffington Post, May 10, 2012)

    Final tuition bills, spring in the air — it is commencement season, and soon-to-be graduates across the United States are poised to transition into unemployment. Many will seek jobs in America’s lone growth sector, government, and specifically with the Department of State as Foreign Service Officers. Should you join?

    Before having my beard shaved off and being shunned, now in the termination process because of the book and blog I wrote, my last position in the U.S. Foreign Service was at the State Department’s Board of Examiners, where since returning from Iraq I administered the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (FSOA) and helped choose the next generation of Foreign Service Officers.

    It was only after my book came out that State decided I could not work there. Something vague about not suddenly having judgement anymore, like losing one’s mojo I guess. I spent a lot of time around people interested in a Foreign Service career. They did not ask for advice and at the Board we did not offer it. However, also since my book came out, more people now approach me with the same question about joining the Foreign Service. Too much irony these days.

    Intelligence Divorced from Innovation and Creativity

    After 24 years of service myself, what I tell interested applicants is this: think very, very carefully about a Foreign Service career. The State Department is looking for a very specific kind of person and if you are that person, you will enjoy your career. I have come to understand that the Department wants smart people who will do what they are told, believing that intelligence can be divorced from innovation and creativity. Happy, content compliance is a necessary trait, kind of like being Downton Abbey-British but without the cool accent. The Department will not give you any real opportunity for input for a very long time — years, if ever. There is no agreed-upon definition of success or even progress at State, no profits, no battles won, no stock prices to measure. Success will be to simply continue to exist, or what your boss says it is, or both, or neither. You may never know what the point is other than that a visiting Congressional delegation conclude with a happy ending, whatever that even is. I spent the bulk of my second tour taking visiting Mrs. VIPs shopping (more senior third tour officers got to escort the VIPs themselves!). This will be your life trip.

    At the same time, State has created a personnel system that will require you to serve in more and more dangerous places, and more and more unaccompanied places without family, as a routine. That sounds cool and adventurous at age 25, but try and imagine if you’d still be happy with it at age 45 with a spouse and two kids. What are your core obligations with a child who needs some extreme parenting as you leave your wife at home alone with him for a year so you can be a placeholder for State’s commitment to be as macho as the military?

    Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?

    Understand that promotions and assignments are more and more opaque. State has recently determined that even promotion statistics cannot be released. Changes in Congress will further limit pay and benefits. Your spouse will be un/underemployed most of his or her life. Your kids will change schools, for better or worse, every one, two or three years. Some schools will be good, some not so good, and you’ll have no choice unless you are willing to subvert your career choices to school choices, as in let’s go to Bogota because the schools are good even if the assignment otherwise stinks. You’ll serve more places where you won’t speak the language and get less training as requirements grow without personnel growth. As you get up there, remember your boss, the politically-appointed ambassador, can arbitrarily be a real estate broker who donated big to the president’s campaign. Make sure all these conditions make sense to you now, and, if you can, as you imagine yourself 10, 15 and 20 years into the future.

    It is a very unique person who can say “Yes” truthfully and after real soul-searching. Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze before you accept that assignment.

    Failed Choices

    In the universe where you’ll work, the U.S. will face a continued stagnation on the world stage. When we, perhaps semi-consciously, made a decision to accept an empire role after World War II, we never built the tools of empire. No colonial service, no securing of critical resources, no carrot and sticks. We sort of settled on a military-only model of soft occupation. We made few friends or allies, accepting reluctant partners. As changes take place in the developing world, the most likely American the people there encounter now wears a uniform and carries a weapon.

    America faced a choice and blew it. As an empire, we either needed to take control of the world’s oil or create a more equitable and less martial global society to ensure our access to it. We did neither. We needed either to create a colonial system for adventures like Iraq or Afghanistan along the Victorian model, or not try to invade and rebuild those places. We did neither.

    Simply pouring more and more lives and money into the military is a one-way street going in the wrong direction. We can keep spending, but when millions of dollars spent on weapons can be deflected by terror acts that cost nothing, we will lose. When any hearts and minds efforts are derailed by yet another excused collateral damage episode, we will lose.

    For most of the next century, America still has a big enough military that our “decline” will be slow, bloody and reluctant. But, inevitable nonetheless. By ideologicizing every challenge from Communism to the entire religion of Islam, we have assured ourselves of never really winning any struggle.

    You can be a part of that if you’d like to join the Foreign Service and help Build the Wall.

    Mother Should I Trust the Government?



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Embassy/State