Patting Each Other's Backs: The Foreign Service Bonus System

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Patting Each Other's Backs: The Foreign Service Bonus System

September 9, 1982 10 min read Download Report
Paul T.
F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy

(Archived document, may contain errors)


209 September 9, 1982 PATTING EACH OTHER'S BACKS THE FOREIGN SERVICE BONUS SYSTEM INTRODUCTION If there is anything the professional Foreign Service Of- ficer Corps approaches more avidly than its claim to supremacy on foreign policy issues, it is the protection of its independence. While it has slipped considerably in the cont e st with other government agencies involved in the conduct of foreign relations, it has been amazingly successful in promoting its status as an organization separate from the rest of the federal bureaucracy with broad authority to deal with'many administra t ive and person- nel matters. Its latest effort toward furthering its independent status focuses on the issue of "performance pay" for Senior Foreign Service Officers. Performance pay--a type of bonus offered to senior officers as an inducement to better p e rfor- mance-=was authorized in the Foreign Service Act of 1.980 as a counterpart to a similar bonus plan available to career execu- tives in the Civil Service. These bonuses range from 5,000 to 20,000 and are awarded annually No one would argue that Congr e ss was wrong to grant author- ity to offer Senior Foreign Service Officers the same incentive awards already available to Civil Servants. But the Foreign Service, having won the authority to grant such bonuses, also wants the recipients to be chosen by pa n els consisting of members of the career service while denying the Secretary of State or the heads of the other foreign affairs agencies (USIA, AID, Commerce and Agricu1ture)l the right to alter or in any way interfere with their selection. This position d e parts substantially from the The Departments of Commerce and Agriculture also have small Foreign Affairs units that come under the same legislation. Their employees however, are not unionized and the performance pay issue has not risen. 2 rules governing Civil Service p-rform nce Day lards where pe-r panels may only recommend, while agency heid; make the final decision as to who shall receive these bonuses and in what amounts.

Like recent efforts by the career service to secure by law a fixed percentage of ambassadorial appointments,2 the bonus issue is part of a larger effort to establish the principle of an independent foreign service, free of alleged political control. From the standpoint of the management of the foreign affairs agencies, however, grant i ng the career service autonomy in giving out performance bonuses complicates the problems of carrying out the Administration's political mandate in the field of foreign affairs. been especially diligent and effective in supporting the Presi- dent's foreig n policy efforts, loyalties would turn even further inward toward the institution itself, with the risk of turning the professional foreign affairs establishment into a kind of independent Third Estate.

Complicating the issue is the fact that many top leve l management positions in the foreign affairs agencies are typical- ly occupied by career officers. If the career officer corps were to be given independent authority to determine who should receive performance pay awards, the loyalties of many in managem e nt positions would be compromised in an obvious conflict of inter- est Instead of being able to reward careerists who have BACKGROUND The quest for independence from political control has long been an objective of the career Foreign Service. the key polic y -making jobs in the State Department and other foreign affairs agencies for members of the career service is seen as the route to complete independence. The ultimate aim seems to be establishment of the position of Permanent Deputy Secretary of State to b e filled by a career officer who would stand as a barrier between politicians and the professional foreign service. Thus protected against "politicization," the career service could, according to this line of thinking, carry out its foreign affairs activit i es with complete objectivity. The model is the military service, a service of trained pro- fessionals, dedicated only to protection of national interests regardless of which party may be in power military operations carried out in the national defense are tenuous at best. Professional decisions in the military tend to be strategic, tactical, and frequently merely mechanical. The Winning over Comparisons between the conduct of foreign relations and See Heritage Foundation Issue Bulletin No. 85 An Ambassador i al Quota System June 3, 1982 3 conduct of foreign relations, on the other hand, involves many subjective judgments, most of which stem ultimately from the political and economic philosophy prevailing inside the country and reflected by the party elected t o govern. Domestic policies toward growth, unemployment, inflation, support for oil explora- tion will all affect and may determine foreign policy toward such issues as the Middle East conflict, human rights, or the Law of the Sea negotiations. Indeed, it can be argued that in today's world there is no area where domestic and foreign policy can be completely separated.

The whole argument for a non-political foreign affairs establishment rests on the old bi-partisan foreign policy slogan that Ilpolitics stop s at the water's edge." This may be true insofar as strategic issues are concerned. But in a host of areas, domestic policy extends well beyond the water's edge automatically entailing the involvement of other governments. Yet, it is not suggested that th e role of the Civil Service in executing domestic policy should be independent of political control.

Over the past thirty years, the career foreign service has succeeded in moving step by step toward the independence it so long has coveted.

Act--sets it a part from other government operations, justifiably, giving it a separate personnel system suited to the requirements of a staff that spends much of its career abroad. rate statutory base, it has, perhaps, found it easier to win certain privileges not affo r ded other segments of government service. The Ilperksll it has garnered are mostly deserved. A distinction should be made, however, between the privileges and perquisites afforded its staff and the service itself being self-administered and autonomous in a government ruled by popular election Its statutory basis--The Foreign Service With a sepa THE PERFORMANCE PAY ARGUMENT Prior to the surfacing of the performance pay issue, the Foreign Service already had won a management agreement that nominations for pr omotion selected by career-dominated selection panels would be binding and could not be altered even by the Secretary of State career service as the basis of its position on the bonus issue.

The promotion system thus already had established a chain of loyalties from the bottom level of the Foreign Service up to, if not including, the very top of the career service. But if per- formance pay awards are also to be determined in a manner similar t o the current promotion system, where the career service deci- sions are binding on management, it is likely that the foreign service will become even less responsive to political change than it is now. Now, at least, top grade careerists are beholden to t heir non-career chiefs for their performance ratings and for their assignment prospects It is this precedent that is cited by the An independently administered perfor 4 mance pay program will weaken even the already tenuous oversight relationship between the career service and political leadership.

How frustrating an organization motivated by inward directed loyalties can be is suggested by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr in his book, A Thousand Days. Schlesinger describes President Kennedy's frustration at having his personal requests to State Department officers go undeeded. (President Kennedy was known to personally phone middle grade officers in the State Department when he wished to convey some idea While it may have been difficult for President Kennedy to acc e pt, if a Foreign Service Officer is forced to chose between carrying out instructions from the super- ior who writes his efficiency report on which promotions are based) or from the President of the United States, he is almost certain to chose the former.

There is also a real danger that such an incestuous system fortified by the right to give out bonuses to its own--will exacerbate an already existing ltold-boyl1 network within the service resulting in unfair treatment of those who tend to ex- press indep endent viewpoints and are unwilling to cater to the whims of superiors. Leaders of the career service who argue for independence state that their objective is to obviate injustices that may arise when a careerist disagrees with policies the party in power may wish to implement. It is folly to think, however, that similar forms of retribution are not meted out by careerists against other-careerists-and often for causes that have less to do with policy than with personal differences. Averill Harriman told th e Jackson Subcommittee in 1963 I have noted that men because they haven't gotten along with one individual have been given very low ratings, when others have given them high ratings Men with a spark and independence of expression are at times held down, wh e reas caution is rewarded Frequently, the llold-boyll network is blind to talent so that it is not that rare that talented personnel, buried deep in the career network are 'Idiscoveredll by political appointees. One has to wonder how such Ildiscoveriesll m ight fare in the competition for performance pay awards in a system where career staffed selection panels had the final say.

PERFORMANCE PAY ISSUES At this stage, the issue is being dealt with at a negotiat- ing level while certain legal actions are under consideration. State, in the meantime, just recently issued a list of performance pay recipients for 1981 based on a career-only selection panel. State management has accepted this list without prejudice to the legal position it has taken in opposition to binding career panels, and is now negotiating with the American Foreign Service Association for a system comparable to USIA representing the employees of USIA, and the AFSA, representing The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), 5 State and A ID, make their case on the basis of the legislative history of the Foreign Service Act as revised in 1980 a House Post Office and Civil Service Commttee report that states: They cite For promotion and career extensions, the rankings of selection boards ar e binding on the Secretary Awards of performance pay to members of the Senior Foreign Service are similarly based on the rankings of selec- tion boards.

The language is ambiguous. However, letters from Congressmen Fascell (D-Fla and Derwinski (R-Ill both m embers of the International Relations Committee of the House, tend to support the AFGE/AFSA view that the intent of Congress was to make the findings of the selection boards binding on the Department and Agency heads. Derwinski, for his part, asserted tha t while management could deny some awards recommended by the selection boards, it could only do so for budgetary reasons (1.e. for insufficient funds).

The management at State AID and USIA, on the other hand, argue that the language of the Foreign Service Act requires the Secretary of State, in implementing the performance pay pro- vision to insure compatibility of the Foreign Service Personnel system with other Government personnel systems to the extent practicable Since the Civil Service Reform Act autho rizes the Performance Review Boards only to "make recommendations to the appropriate appointing authority of the Agency it is argued that a llcompatiblell system for the Foreign Service would include the same limitations.

Since agreement or compromise prov ed impossible, the key issues were submitted to the Foreign Service Impasse Disputes Panel by USIA, and subsequently to the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board,(FSLRB In June 1982, the FSLRB ruled that these issues are negotiable. USIA, with the support of State AID, the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management, decided to take the issue to the U.S. Court of Ap- peals. While the case is awaiting court action, State has pre- sented new precepts to AFSA for discussion for the 1 982 bonus THE ISSUE OF MANAGEMENT COMPOSITION A question of considerable importance in this regard is the definition of Itmanagement official.11 A peculiarity of the foreign affairs entities is that management and members of the bargaining unit frequently are the same people. Consequently, an inherent conflict of interest arises in the collective bargaining process in an agency or department overwhelmingly staffed by career people. Where a Senior Foreign Service Oficer is. occupying a top mangement positio n in the State Department, for example, he personally would stand to gain by taking a liberal stand in negotiations with AFSA, which would be representing his interests 6 on the union side to redefine the term "management official" in Section 1002 Subsecti o n (12) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 to include any member of the Senior Foreign Service. This would be fair since most Foreign Service Officers of this rank hold jobs at one time or another that involve management functions. Such a change in the def i nition of management official would automatically exclude Senior Foreign Service Officers from the bargaining process as members of the bargaining unit A possible solution to this dilemma would be CONCLUSION It is hard to imagine why the performance pay s y stem applied to the Civil Service would not work just as well for the Foreign Service. Giving agency heads the final word as to who shall receive bonuses in the Senior Executive Service (as the top level of the Civil Service is called has not resulted in p atronage abuse or politicization of the Civil Service vice argument that it is somehow more vulnerable is nebulous, at best, and not substantiated by any evidence presented by propon ents of career-dominated selection panels with power to make their nomin ations binding.

If the bonus issue is not resolved in a manner acceptable to management, undoubtedly new legislation will be sought by the Reagan Administration, perhaps simply to remove senior officers from the bargaining unit, or by broader authority. In any event a more comprehensive review of the Foreign Service Act would seem appropriate to re-examine the question of Foreign Service account ability to'political leadership. It should be possible to pro tect the career service from the threat of patrona g e abuse with out giving it a degree of autonomy incompatible with the concept of an elected government capable of making changes in policies The Foreign Ser Nor is it in the best long-term interests of the Foreign Service that it should have so much.auton o my performance pay authority independent of the views of management, as the Foreign Service wishes, will certainly lead to the forma tion of cliques, result in more favoritism, and turn the Foreign Service ever more inward. Indeed, the image of elitism an d exclusivity has already contributed to a loss of influence in the foreign affairs community. In the long run, every Foreign Ser vice Officer should appreciate that a more intimate involvement with the political process will enhance the influence of the f o reign service and bring to the career service far greater rewards than the satisfaction of winning the exclusive right to choose who among them shall be the recipients of annual perfor mance awards Execution of the I i vreparea ax rne requesz 01 The Herit age Foundation by John Krizay John Krizay is a former Foreign Service Officer


Paul T.

F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy


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