Professional Foreign Service

The State Department is made up of a widely diverse body of dedicated professionals – including members of the career Foreign Service (both Foreign Service Officers and Foreign Service Specialists), members of the Civil Service, overseas Foreign Service Nationals and Local Employed Staff, and non career appointees.  This section highlights certain individuals and groups in this vast group.  It focuses primarily on members of the Foreign Service, though it recognizes that many from the ranks of the Civil Service as well as non career employees (also called “political” or “Schedule C” employees) have given distinguished service over the years to advance U.S. diplomatic objectives.  Those seeking more information on the role and contributions of non career U.S. ambassadors are encouraged to visit the excellent website of the Council of American Ambassadors (

The 25 Foreign Service “Examples of Excellence” listed in this section have been selected to represent the legions of exceptional diplomats who have served the United States since the end of World War II.  No such list can claim that it includes “the best of the best.”  For that reason, the officers chosen are identified only as examples of what is the best in the American diplomatic service.  Undeniably, many other Foreign Service professionals, of the past and present, would be equally if not more deserving of inclusion in the group.
The “In Harm’s Way” segment likewise features only a small sampling of stories of individuals who have faced danger on the front lines of defending American interests abroad.  In most cases, videotaped interview clips accompany the narratives.   A vivid collection of personal accounts is contained in Joseph Sullivan’s Embassies Under Siege, which was published in 1995 by the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.
All Foreign Service Officers working abroad are charged with maintaining the highest standards of objectivity when reporting on conditions at their posts of assignment.  They are expected to develop reliable and knowledgeable sources of information; to be careful observers; and to offer Washington the highest quality of information, comment, and (where appropriate) recommendations for policy.  Such values are at the core of an FSO’s “service discipline.”  To carry out their duties , they are often expected to become area specialists and reach a high degree of language proficiency.  Foreign Service area specialists have often been highly valued for their expert (and sometimes esoteric) knowledge of foreign cultures, but sometimes these same specialists have come under criticism for getting too close to their subjects.  When describing attitudes and conditions that run counter to official policies, they have on occasion been charged, both within and outside the State Department, with a bias known pejoratively as “localitis” or “clientitis.”  In most cases, such criticisms are mild, transitory or largely beyond public view.  However, this website pays particular attention to two groups very much in the public eye -- the “China hands” who were hounded and abused during the anti-communist McCarthyism rampant in America after World War II and the “Arabists” who have faced strong criticism from those who feel they lack sufficient empathy for the state of Israel.

In the section titled “A More Representative Foreign Service,” the website addresses the vast changes in America’s diplomatic corps.  Once a bastion of white male dominance, the State Department has gradually opened its doors in a search for the best available talent from the entirety of the United States.  The civil rights and women’s movements of the 1960 s added impetus to these efforts, and in the new century, the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative announced by Secretary of State Colin Powell began a process of bringing in the most diverse crops of FSOs in the Department’s history.  That new diversity includes not only women in a proportion that is roughly equal to men but also many more minorities--as well as gays and lesbians and those with physical disabilities who never before would have been considered for Foreign Service careers.  While diversity is very apparent in the lower ranks of the Foreign Service, the more senior positions remain largely in the hands of white males.  In order to speed what may be a temporary condition of under representation of minorities in senior ranks, diversity has been fostered through the judicious use of lateral entry procedures and Schedule C appointments -- to positions both inside the State Department and at embassies abroad.