Foreign Service Act of 1946

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Foreign Service Act of 1946

Shahla F. Maghzi

The Foreign Service Act of 1946 (P.L. 79-724) is a reorganization initiative established to develop professional opportunities to attract foreign service officers and to train them to become a "disciplined corps" of civil servants. Prior to the passage of the Foreign Service Act, there was little control over the selection of diplomatic and consular personnel representing the United States. After World War I, it became clear that the Foreign Service required restructuring. The first initiative was the Rogers Act of May 24, 1924, which established a career service combining the diplomatic and consular branches of the Foreign Service. Selection of officers was based on an examination and successful completion of a period of service. The second initiative was the Moses-Linthicum Act of February 23, 1931. This act revised the Rogers Act and attempted to address concerns regarding the need to coordinate the diplomatic and consular branches and regularize the promotion policy. These two initiatives contributed substantially to the development of the Foreign Service.

Following America's period of isolation in the early part of the twentieth century and as the demands made on the Foreign Service during the Second World War began to exceed its traditional functions, efforts continued to focus on means of ensuring the comprehensive reorganization of the Foreign Service. Following President Franklin Roosevelt's second Reorganization Plan, effective July 1, 1939, the Department of State became responsible for the foreign activities of the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce. It also became responsible for ascertaining the "welfare and whereabouts" of American nationals in dangerous zones abroad. In March 1944, the American Foreign Service Journal announced an essay contest open to Foreign Service officers for the purpose of presenting criticisms of the operation of the Service and making recommendations for improvements. On the basis of its own studies, the Department of State drafted a proposal for reorganization.

The Foreign Service Act was passed by unanimous consent without lengthy debate on August 13, 1946. The act undertakes "to improve, strengthen, and expand" the existing Foreign Service organization. It also addresses concerns regarding lack of representation of the American people as a whole by including the objective of eliminating "conditions favorable to inbred prejudice and caste spirit." In addition, according to Alona E. Evans, the major areas of change included administrative organization, personnel structure, and training. The introduction to the act reads:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President is authorized under the provisions of this Act to appoint, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, not to exceed two hundred and fifty persons to positions as Foreign Service officers. Each such appointment shall be made by commission to a classified grade and shall be in addition to all other appointments of Foreign Service officers.

The Foreign Service Act of 1946 contributed to increasing the organization of the Foreign Service, the attractiveness of the career aspects of the service, and the regularization of promotions within the service. The number of classes within the career service was reduced from eleven to seven, a new post of Career Minister was introduced, and promotions followed the pattern of "promotion-up or selection-out" which provides for a designated maximum time in which a foreign service officer can remain in a post without being promoted. It also called for the training of Foreign Service officers in the political and economic policies of other countries so as to enable Foreign Service officers to act, according to Alona Evans, with "objectivity and understanding" abroad.


Evans, Alona E. "The Reorganization of the American Foreign Service." International Affairs 24, no. 2 (April 1948): 206217.

Harrington, J. P. "How the Legislation Developed." American Foreign Service Journal, no. 23 (1946): 8.

Ravndal, C. M. "The New Duties of Our Foreign Service." American Foreign Service Journal, no. 19 (1942): 35759.

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Foreign Service Act of 1946

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