The recent stories about inappropriate behavior among State Department officials caused me to think that perhaps we are losing some good people to test scores.
Following September 11th, a lot of people wanted to serve their country. Some joined the military and many tried to work for the diplomatic corps; in other words the State Department.
The U.S. Foreign Service Officer exam is not issued very often, but when it is, there is no shortage of political science students and many others who seek to help steer American foreign policy. People come from the best Ivy League schools and elsewhere to take the five-hour exam.
In order to get to the next steps of this understandably long process, one has to ace this exam. After 9-11, the State Department was looking for more people than usual. They leaned toward the best test takers.
Here we are 12 years later. How are those Foreign Service officers doing? Some are probably serving us quite well, but we are experiencing an unprecedented number of internal mishaps. This is at a time in our history when foreign policy is extremely important.
There is no magic alternative on how to select good foreign service people other than to focus more on one’s academic background and less on the performance of a good five-hour testing period.
We tolerate mistakes in our school system far more easily than we do in our military or foreign service. Case in point: we teach languages in our schools in the least successful way and with bad results to boot. How long does it take the CIA to teach a language? Faster than you can say Rosetta Stone (Well, maybe not that fast, but let’s say a few months).
Now, however, we see that what has not worked so well in our education system may be parroted in our foreign service. Are we relying way too heavily on standardized scoring, and less on other things, e.g. courses taken, natural languages, military experience?
We may just be in a strange period where there are a lot of miscues on the State Department level. It is highly possible that this is just a coincidence. But these are our best and brightest, so behavioral mistakes are unacceptable.
This is our diplomatic corps. Those of us who call for limited military skirmishes know that a weak diplomatic corps means less of a chance for good diplomatic solutions and statecraft. This process of choosing the best people for the job cannot be handed off to an auto scanner in the first round if (and that is a big “if”) that is yielding a weaker diplomatic face for the country.
A Solution in Woodhaven
The Queensway project is now in its design phase. The proposed High Line-style park would stretch along the old Long Island Railroad tracks from Rego Park into Ozone Park.
The controversy in Woodhaven centers around the stretch of railroad (now proposed bike path) that would run through the backyards of citizens on 98th street. It seems as though this project is moving along without much debate, which is unfair to the people on 98th Street.
But perhaps there is a solution that could make both sides happy? If the city uses this land to create a bike path-style park, is it possible to make the path stop before it hits Woodhaven? It would remove about a mile of the three-mile route, but it would be a way to keep those residents of 98th Street happy.
This would put a giant damper on the proposed multi-cultural center that is supposed to be at the end of the proposed Queensway in Ozone Park, but maybe that idea can be moved to a new spot in Forest Park (which is actually a park) or Richmond Hill instead of Ozone Park (which is not really a park).
The city would still get a new park, and the old railroad would be transformed for the most part. We would still be encouraging green travel. Even the design could remain the same.
If diplomacy is not working so well on the international level (see above), maybe it’s worth a shot at the local level.