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COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS,
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Washington, Friday, December 15, 1922. The committee this day met, Hon. John Jacob Rogers presiding.
Mr. ROGERS. Mr. Skinner, you were asked to suspend by the committee in the midst of your testimony on Monday so that Mr. Carr could lay the foundation for the bill in detail, and the committee have had the privilege of hearing Mr. Carr for three or four days. What we would like from you, if you please, is comment of a practical nature resulting from your long experience in the field, with an attempt at avoidance of mere cumulative material.
STATEMENT OF ROBERT P. SKINNER, CONSUL GENERAL TO LON
Mr. SKINNER. Mr. Chairman, this bill is a business bill. Its outstanding purpose is to protect, encourage, and assist our commercial and other business relations abroad, which are so intimately intertwined with our political relations as to be practically inseparable. It attempts to provide a better business organization of vur foreign service is in li
your departmental reorganization scheme here at home. It gives you an organization with one head instead of two organizations with two heads occupying the same field.
It gives the Executive power to cut out duplication and to coordinate various activities, and it lays the foundation for a trained personnel from whom the President can draw, if so disposed, those higher diplomatic officers who, under the Constitution, can be named by him as he deems best. I frankly say, as one of the men from the field, that we hope in time he will find it to his advantage and convenience to seek those higher officers from the trained service. However, the bill imposes no such requirement nor can any bill amend the well-established constitutional practice in this respect. You have been told that this measure sets up no principle not already recognized to some extent in our existing legislation. It does introduce one novel administrative feature not novel in the practice of other countries but in our own, and it is the vital feature of these proposals. That feature is the destruction of the wall now existing between the diplomatic and consular branches of the service, a perfectly useless wall, the only obvious effect of which is to tend to create a caste among office holders, a wall which prevents your diplomatic secretaries from obtaining a working knowledge of business affairs, prevents your consuls from obtaining an insight into the processes of central governments, and deprives the Secretary of State from employing available talent where it may most usefully be applied.
The men now in office can not be changed in their characters or habits of thought by this or any other bill. You are legislating only incidentally for them. But 10 or 15 years from now, if this bill passes, you will have created a new, a more efficient class of public servant true to type, like the splendid fellows who come out of the Military and Naval Academies; men who, while possessing a proper appreciation of the amenities of life, will also have an equal appreciation that ours is a business country, with whose varied concerns they will be familiar and capable by their habits, instincts, and desires of giving such assistance as a well-conceived foreign service may render.
Now, you are not going to find men of this sort full grown, like Jove. Perhaps there was a time when our foreign representatives, being amiable and intelligent, were adequate to every probable situation. I can recall the sign on my own door 26 years ago, “ Office hours 10 to 12 and 2 to 4,” and not much going on at that. It is different now. I remember hearing Mr. Page in London, shortly after the outbreak of the war, exclaim, almost pathetically, that his predecessors had had a very good time. “Of course, they had a very good time,” said he, “but they had no work to do.” And there you have the key to the need of this bill. There is work to be done and somebody must do it or try to do it, and it is for you to decide whether it shall be well done or indifferently done, or poorly done.
Mr. Cockran said something a day or two ago about the old embassy on Victoria Street. I recall the old embassy very well, four rooms, mostly occupied by British clerks. It was next door to a shirt maker's shop. The place we now occupy as our embassy in Grosvenor Gardens is a different affair, a large substantial building, and occupied by scores of busy people, doing business in a businesslike way. Edward Everett was a great minister to Great Britain, a most charming man. Looking into my records in London for December 16, 1841, you will find an entry for that day showing that Mr. Everett returned
from Paris and received from the consul general, Mr. Espinwall, the archives and property of the legation; and of what did they consist? The property consisted of one French cabinet containing files, one iron box containing letter books, two bookcases containing books, one cupboard, one division cupboard, and one desk. Please note there was just one desk.
That was the property of the United States Government in London in 1841. A year later we had our consul general in London having some trouble with Rothschilds, who refused to give credit to the United States Government for 450 pounds, about $3,000. The country has changed since then. We do not have to go hat in hand from Rothschilds to Baring Bros., as he did, for $3,000. But in the meantime our Diplomatic Service has undergone little change in the method of making appointments or the structure of the service itself. Ministers and ambassadors these days are functionaries, and their success or failure is less a matter of externals than it is capacity to perceive opportunities and perform useful work.
Some one has suggested that we need the successful business man in these foreign positions, but the successful business man will not abandon his success, and the failures we do not want. The dreamers we do not want. The merely idle rich we do not want. The expatriates we do not want. What alternative is there? There is only one worth considering. Adopt the principles set out in this bill. Select your young material and form it to your purposes. How? By sending it to school. Where? In the consular establishment. Give these young men to us. Where can the future ambassador better learn the meaning of treaties than in our consulates, where their practical application is a matter of daily experience? Where better can he keep his American spirit fresh than in our offices, where we see and touch from hour to hour the vastly complicated material and moral life of our own country? Where can he learn to comprehend the processes of business so well as where the actual papers relating to business come rushing through the windows, demanding to be dealt with? Where can he learn how to protect the citizen in his rights so well as where the citizen comes to claim them? Where can he learn to know so much of life in all its aspects as in our consulates, where we note the births, read the burial service over the dead, officiate as witnesses at marriages, open wills, file claims, hire and discharge maritime laborers, apply our navigation laws, carry on the tabulation of our export statistics from hour to hour, deal with the immigrant who leaves for our shores, be occasionally shot at-as happened to our consul at Malta on Monday of this week-learn to hold our tongues and control our tempers in trying circumstances?
A remark was dropped by the acting chairman yesterday about our diplomatic secretaries, or some of them. He was dissatisfied in particular cases. It seems to me that the conditions upon which he touched are an important demonstration of the need of this bi'l. We have said to these young men : “ You can become secretaries, you can learn foreign languages, you can perform the work assigned to you. With good luck you can earn $4,000 a year, but don't expect more. You are not going to be advanced to the positions of honor and responsibility--they are reserved for gentlemen from outside who possess influence.” The wonder is that so many young men of ability have been found willing to take up such unpromising situations in life.
Our consuls have slight immediate advantages held out to them in this bill. As has been pointed out by Mr. Carr, under its terms they may be shifted into diplomatic positions from time to time, and it will be an excellent thing for the service as a whole that they can weave back and forth, accumulating and applying the experience they have gained in the discharge of their duties. They, like the diplomatic secretaries, may hope that they will be called upon to serve at the top of the ladder on proving their ability to do so. The effect upon the morale of the service will be good. Our consuls now have practically no chance of getting beyond the $8,000 grades. There are only two $12,000 posts, and as four men have occupied these posts since 1906, you have an average of one man every four years for these $12,000 positions. That is the best that an American consul can expect at the present time. If this bill should be enacted, you open the door of hope to them, at all events.
Another excellent thing for the consuls resulting from this bill will be the adjustment of salaries, so that hereafter we shall have no such anomalies as consuls general receiving less compensation than the consuls, or, as in my own case, consuls general receiving more than most ministers. The relativity of all the salaries under this bill is correct. If you think the basic scale too low as time goes on, you need only to increase it by such percenatge as may appear to be just and wise.
The greatest thing that you propose to do for the consuls in the contemplated act is to guarantee their future. Few consuls possess private means, and the scale of compensation adopted prior to 1914 has been cut in two as to purchasing power. Every consul in England has seen his compensation reduced by 20 per cent in the last 12 months, in line with the rising exchange. And to these well-known conditions you have provided by law that consuls may not engage in any gainful occupation. They may not invest their vings in the country of their official residence, should they have any to invest. Add to that that consuls necessarily reside in foreign lands and rarely, after all, are in places that are agreeable, and often in places that are well known to be unhealthy.
Mr. BROWNE. Could not a consul send money over and loan it in this country?
Mr. SKINNER. Undoubtedly a consul can invest as he chooses in his own country,
Mr. BROWNE. But could not over there?
Mr. SKINNER. The point is that the consul is like any other business man, most likely to have opportunities to invest in the place where he happens to reside. He is removed from his own country, and by the time he learns of an opportunity here the opportunity is gone.
Mr. BROWNE. There is no law preventing it, but the opportunities do not present themselves there as much?
Mr. SKINNER. No; there is a definite rule under which he is prohibited from investing his savings in the country of his residence. It would be a violation of the regulations of the Department of State for me to buy a British sterling bond.
Clearly, men who have attained old age in these circumstances must be protected against want, and I have been deeply impressed by the generous dispositions of this committee in dealing with that particular phase of the matter. If I may point out one detail in the bill, it is this: Your bill provides a retiring allowance on reaching 65 years of age or complete disability. I suggest that there may be men who, having served 25 or more years continuously, may feel that they wish to retire somewhere, let us say, between the ages of 55 and 65. They may wish-it seems to me a perfectly natural thing—to spend some years in their own country among their own people, while still physically sound and capable of enjoyment, and I suggest that on a suitable showing to the President, and with his approval, such men might be authorized to retire before reaching 65 years of age, on an allowance appropriate to their length of service. As the bill stands, a man retiring at the age of 64 would receive nothing, while a colleague who, perhaps, had actually served fewer years would retire at the age of 65 on a substantial allowance.
Mr. BROWNE. Does a man under this bill who has contributed and leaves the service before he is 65, receive what he has paid in?
Mr. SKINNER. Yes. Every man who separates from the service before reaching the age of retirement is reimbursed the actual amount that he has contributed, but, of course, the reimbursement would be a very small affair. I do not press this point. I offer it for your consideration.
The question has been raised whether other Governments have anticipated us in combining their diplomatic and consular branches, and I answer yes. Every French, German, or Austrian colleague I ever had served later as minister in some part of the world. I understand that France, China, Belgium, Japan, Norway, Denmark, Germany, and Great Britain entirely or to a degree have unified their services and made them interchangeable. Great Britain goes further than we propose to go in this bill in this respect, that she appoints the same individual at one and the same time to act as a diplomatic and consular representative. Thus, in Japan the British ambassador is also the consul general, and the same is true as to British ministers in the following countries : Bolivia, Bulgaria, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ethiopia, Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Salvador, and Uruguay.
The truth is, we live in times when business and diplomacy go hand in hand. You can not keep business out of the foreign service any more than Mr. Dick could keep the head of King Charles out of his conversation. The British have seen this, and only a day or two before I left London the British ambassador to Spain, in the course of his remarks on the occasion of the going into effect of a new commercial treaty with Spain, said: “Diplomatic servants are occasionally criticized by the commercial community. I think, however, that there is a great change taking place now among the younger members of the service. They realize that a greater part of their work in the future
will be in connection with business matters and they take a serious interest in these questions.”
A member of the committee asked Mr. Carr the other day in what manner the Consular Service actually had been improved by the methods of selection which have been in effect, progressively, since 1906. I do not know whether you would call the Americanization of the service an improvement, if so, they have accomplished that. . When I went to Marseilles I was the only American in the office. When I went to Hamburg it was the same. During my first day in the Hamburg office a German gentleman entered, one who evidently was in the habit of coming in frequently, and perceiving me occupying one of the chairs, he leaned over to one of our worthy German clerks and asked: “Who is that man sitting over there?” The clerk said, “ He is the consul general." The German gentleman said in a surprised way, “ He looks like an American.”. The clerk said, “ Yes; he is an American.”
Mr. ROGERS. What year was that?
When I went to Berlin there were only two Americans there other than myself. When I came to London there were only three Americans other than myself. You will find practically none but Americans at those posts now. I have 23 of them in London, all keen, clean, wholesome young fellows you would be glad to know them anywhere. Every one, I think, is a college-bred man.
I am sorry that no Member of Congress has ever inspected that office, because I think you would be a little surprised to see how varied, interesting, and instructive our work is, and how close it comes to the real things in our American life. Just to illustrate how things happen, I may mention that last year we sent a report to Mr. Carr about a new method of block-letter handwriting being taught in London schools. Well, that report was printed and to-day we are getting letters from all over this country asking for particulars. I should not be surprised if that one little report should be the means of giving the people of this country something they much need, a handwriting that anybody can read. I hold in my hand a register of our office, which I shall not read, but it may interest you if I select points from it to show the working organizations of an American consulate in one of the large commercial cities of the world.
To start with, there is my own particular office. You can easily understand what that work is-general supervision, including supervisory jurisdiction over the other consulates in the United Kingdom. Now, we come to a very interesting department, the commercial department. We have here 10 different employees. We have one employee who sits at the telephone from 9 o'clock in the morning until 5 in the evening answering inquiries about the rates of duty on particular commodities, customs administration laws, all sorts of commercial questions of that kind. In this department we carry on commercial correspondence and receive visitors. In the course of a year thousands of commercial travelers drop in who want addresses and specific and general information of every nature.
During the year ended June 30, 1922, in this particular department there were 3,328 written replies to trade inquiries sent out. Our office made 396 trade reports of rather a comprehensive character, and we sent to the Federal Reserve Board reports by cable every month showing the fluctuations in prices of all the staple commodities. That is a very large work. We receive in our office every first-class trade journal in the United States dealing with important commodities, and we are in communication with the various trade exchanges which deal in the same commodities, and in these various ways we get the prices from day to day. These prices are at the command of our manufacturers.
Mr. LINTHICUM. What are the working relations between the Department of Commerce and the Consular Service, as being described by you?
Mr. SKINNER. They are extremely friendly.
Mr. LINTHICUM. What lines of work do they take up different from the line of work that you take up?
Mr. SKINNER. They do the same things we do; but, of course, we are in direct personal touch with the business community. The actual commercial papers, under our laws, are lodged with us; business men come to us, of necessity, and we have many direct contacts.
Mr. LINTHICUM. It has been said that in the consular service the people came to you for information about business, and in the Department of Commerce that the man went after the business. Do you know of any such distinction as that?
Mr. SKINNER. Went after business or went after information?
Mr. LINTHICUM. Went after business for this country. It was mentioned that the landing of a contract for a telephone exchange was secured in central Nicaragua or one of the South American countries.
Mr. SNINNER. It may be the case that in certain circumstances an American public officer has succeeded in selling goods, but it is most unusual, and it is certainly not the function of such officers to replace the business man. As practical professional and business men yourselves you know without my telling you that when a steel manufacturer wants to sell steel he looks for the man who ordinarily buys steel, and he sells it himself. A public officer can assist in these transactions. Occasionally special knowledge may come to him whereby a purchase and sale takes place which otherwise would have passed to another country. But, in the last analysis, the business man himself carries on his own business for obvious reasons. What we aim to do is to inform business men of existing opportunities, to suggest the conditions under which business can be carried on, to support legitimate efforts of a commercial character, and to defend commercial interests when threatened by adverse infuences; but I do not conceive it to be the function of the public officer actually to substitute himself for the business man.
Mr. LINTHICUM. Do the Department of Commerce men maintain a separate establishment and offices in London just as your Consular Service does?
Mr. SKINNER. Yes. The representatives of the Department of Commerce have an organization of their own. They receive visitors, answer letters, and prepare reports as we do.
Mr. LINTHICUM. Why could not the Consular Service be sufficiently extended or given sufficient power to carry out all the work that the Department of Commerce is doing, dual work that they are attempting?
Mr. SKINNER. That is for. Congress to decide. We have been doing this work for many years, and we require no additional powers.
Mr. MOORE. As I understand, Mr. Linthicum has in mind the possible consolidation of those two independent services, to avoid duplication?
Mr. SKINNER. There is undoubtedly duplication. There is, of course, no reason why we should not do everything that is necessary to be done. As a matter of fact, we are two organizations occupying the same field.
Mr. COLE. Does the Department of Agriculture have representatives over there?
Mr. SKINNER. Yes; thė Department of Agriculture has a representative in London who reports on markets, a very capable young man. This work is also a duplication of work carried on in the Consular Service. The Federal Reserve Board at one time proposed having a separate office in London to report on market conditions, too, but, as that would have involved the employment of a very considerable staff and a substantial outlay of money, it was decided to intrust the work to the consul general, and we do it all with the assistance of one extra clerk. If you will examine the office register which I hold in my hand you will see that our organization is susceptible of being expanded in any direction to meet any requirement. All that we need to do if confronted by some new requirement is to increase the resources of an existing division or, perhaps, to set up an entirely new division. The work that we are now doing includes duties on behalf of the Departments of State, Commerce, Labor, Navy, War, Agriculture, Justice, and Treasury, or the bureaus under those departments. We also act for the government of the Philippine Islands and the Panama Canal administration. I do not wish to give you an exaggerated idea of this representation of other departments. In some respects the work is regular and very voluminous, especially for the Treasury Department and the Department of Commerce, but in other instances our duties are light and more or less intermittent.
Mr. ROGERS. Before you resume your tabulation of your office force, in the first place, how many years does your recollection in the service cover?
Mr. SKINNER. About 26 years.
Mr. ROGERS. How many instances do you recall where a consul or consul general has been promoted to be ambassador or minister from his consular post?
Mr. SKINNER. The only case that I recall at this moment is that of Mr. Bowen, who was promoted to be minister in Persia from Barcelona, and following that was transferred to Venezuela. Mr. Root at one time asked me