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FOREIGN SERVICE OF THE UNITED STATES.
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS,
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Washington, Thursday, January 17, 1924. The committee this day met, Hon. Stephen G. Porter (chairman) presiding The CHAIRMAN. The committee will be in order.
STATEMENT OF HON. HUGH GIBSON, MINISTER TO POLAND
Mr. ROGERS of Massachusetts. Mr. Gibson has a few more observations to make to the committee.
Mr. GIBSON. Mr. Chairman, I should like to touch on one or two of the questions that were brought out during the last day or two. One was on the question of our entrance examinations for the Diplomatic Service. The question was raised whether they were hard enough. As a matter of fact they are not nearly as hard as they ought to be. We quite realize that, but they are just as difficult as they can be made so long as present conditions continue. Yesterday you were told that when we had 11 places to fill we had to choose the men from among less than 40 candidates.
That means that you can take the 11 best men from this group of candidates. Obviously we should get a better choice if we had several hundred men to pick and choose from instead of 40. The standard of the examination will always be measured by the range of choice. We can go on increasing the severity of the examinations as we continue to increase the number of candidates. One of the strongest arguments in favor of this bill is that it is calculated to attract larger numbers of qualified men, thus giving us the possibility of setting a higher standard for entrance to the service. This would not in any way change the principles governing the examinations-only the way in which they can be used to eliminate the unfitted.
The ability to pass a written examination can not be considered as proof that a man would make a competent diplomatic or consular officer. There is altogether too much weight attached to written examinations nowadays, and these ought to be reduced to their proper proportions. All that should be sought by written examinations is to ascertain whether a man has the fund of acquired knowledge essential as preliminary training and whether he is able to present that knowledge effectively on paper. All this should be merely a preliminary to ascertain whether he has the other qualities essential to the making of a good public officer. The oral examination not only shows whether he has the fund of information which
is essential but should display his resourcefulness, his readiness in dealing with people and problems, and should afford a glimpse of his personality. In many cases the oral examination is ample to demonstrate the unfitness of the candidate for the foreign service, and in justice to the individual and to the Government it should be possible to reject him on the spot. The retention of this power of rejection by the board of examination is the keystone of an efficient service.
Quite aside from inability to deal with the questions presented in the oral examination, it should be possible to reject a candidate on various other grounds. For instance, if he was unduly slovenly in appearance. No wholesale grocery would send out a representative so lacking in neatness and presentability as to prejudice possible customers, and for the same reason representatives of the American Government should live up to business standards. It should be possible to reject a candidate if he has an insufficient command of the English language. A man who speaks English brokenly or who is unable to express his ideas clearly is not fit to represent the American Government any more than he would be to represent an American business concern. A candidate should be rejected if his manners and his bearing are clearly lacking in the qualities which we expect from a public official. No people on earth are more exacting than Americans as to the way in which they are received by their representatives abroad, and any man who through unmannerly bearing or tactlessness is clearly likely to rub people the wrong way is bound to cause more trouble than he is worth.
It should be borne in mind that this power to reject should be exercised only to exclude those who are manifestly unfit. If a man shows minor defects which may be cured he should not be immediately excluded. This is purely a matter of common sense and can not be laid down by regulations.
Mr. LINTHICUM. My recollection is that the question which arose was not as to whether the examination was rigid enough, but whether it was not too rigid.
Mr. GIBSON. We can not under present conditions make the examinations hard enough to limit entrance to the service to the high type of men we should like to have.
Mr. LINTHICUM. That there were 3,000 inquiries and 45 applicants, of whom 39 were designated, and out of all of them 11 passed. It is not always a question of what kind of an examination a man can pass, but what his qualifications are. It used to be that the public schools demanded that the children should pass a certain examination before they were promoted, but it was found that some of the best-informed children were scared at examinations and did not pass them, and so promotions have been made on their records.
Mr. GIBSON. In this case some of the best-informed children could not afford to take the examination. The great source of elimination among these people who write in for information is that when they see the conditions under which the Diplomatic Service is working, no matter how well qualified they may be, if they do not feel that they can supplement their salaries they realize it is useless to come to the examination. I have talked to many of them who have inquired and eventually decided not to come in, which is nearly always on the ground that they can not make ends meet. They do not want
to come into the service as a money-making business, but can not afford to contribute out of their own pockets. It is not the difficulty of examination that reduces our choice, but the fact that we do not open a career as does the Army and Navy.
This problem of examinations and a lot of others will be solved by the adoption of legislation which enables a man to earn a living while working for the Government. The present system is a costly anomaly. We claim to be a democratic country. We tell ourselves that there is no office within the gift of the people to which the humblest citizen may not aspire provided he is fitted to discharge its duties. In the face of this we allow a situation to exist where a whole category of important and honorable posts are set aside for a special class and from which all our people are excluded unless they have personal fortunes and are able to pay for the upkeep of their official positions. This is the rankest inconsistency. Even the governments which we look upon as being reactionary provide for their diplomatic representation in such a way that a poor man can aspire to attain the rank of ambassador. So far as I know, we are the only great power which consistently excludes from competition for these posts any but men of independent means.
Mr. LINTHICUM. It looks to me like a number of these clerks who are appointed are in the early stages of their appointment mostly pen pushers.
Mr. GIBSON. The secretaries?
Mr. LINTHICUM. Yes; and that they generally ought to have opportunity to study a language in the country where they are stationed. Mr. GIBSON. I quite agree.
It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of a thorough knowledge of languages for a diplomat. It is perhaps easier to realize how much this means if we imagine a diplomatic official arriving in Washington speaking no English and only some language like Russian or Persian, which practically no Americans speak. He would be just about as useful as though he were deaf, dumb, and blind, for he would be unable to communicate with our people, to state the wishes of his own government, to read our newspapers or form acquaintances. He might almost as well stay at home. One of our diplomats abroad increases in value to the Government with every fresh language he learns. This does not mean that languages alone are a qualification for a diplomat. The mere fact that a man can talk volubly in English does not prove that he is of value, and volubility in many languages without other qualifications is of no more use than being a chatterbox in English. It is only when these qualifications are added to the equipment needed by a diplomat that they become of first-rate importance.
There is nobody who is so quick to realize the value of languages as an ambassador or a minister appointed from private life who himself speaks nothing but English. He is entirely dependent upon the staff of his mission to keep him informed, to make his communications for him, interpret all his conversations, and carry on pretty well every step of his official life. If the Department of State sends him a secretary who does not speak the language of the country, or a language which is of real value there, he is sincerely indignantand rightly so. A thorough working knowledge of several languages
is an absolute essential for a secretary and should be considered practically an essential for an ambassador or minister. Our country is practically the only one which sends out ambassadors who do not speak any language but their own, and we pay for it heavily.
Mr. LINTHICUM. And to inform them on those matters of which we were talking the other day in reference to diplomacy.
Mr. GIBSON. Yes.
Mr. LINTHICUM. I somewhat feel that these men ought to have opportunity to complete their examinations after they have been appointed and after they have served and obtained certain experience in the field.
Mr. GIBSON. That raises a feature that we really should give a lot of consideration to, and that is the idea of having a probationary period to let the men see whether they are fitted for the service and let us see whether they are fitted for the service.
Mr. LINTHICUM. Exactly.
Mr. GIBSON. That is to assure some sound way to eliminate the unfit other than by examination. Any examination, we all recognize, is a very imperfect way of choosing your material, but if you could take the men who pass examinations and eliminate those that are obviously unfit and then try out the others, the result would be much better for everybody.
There is no doubt that the caliber of men accepted in the foreign service would be considerably raised by some such provision. It might be found desirable to appoint them on probation after taking the written and oral examinations with the understanding that they would not be definitely accepted into the service until they had undergone a preliminary course of training and presented themselves for a final examination. This system is followed by the French and British Governments and also, I believe, by some of our own corporations which pay a fair salary to candidates during this probationary period. If Congress were to provide small salaries for candidates on probation it would be money well spent if the Government succeeded thereby in eliminating candidates clearly lacking in the qaulities necessary for a governmental representative. The efficiency of the foreign service depends largely upon the exclusion of those who do not have the personal qualifications to make successful representatives. This can not be disclosed by written examinations, and even oral examinations can effectively deal only with those who are obviously unfit; only a probationary period can afford an opportunity to pick and choose scientifically among the material available after the written and oral examinations.
Any attempt rigidly to accept or exclude candidates solely on the basis of written and oral examinations is bound to be unjust both to the Government and the candidate. If the board of examination excludes everybody who does not measure up to a high standard it may exclude men of great possibilities because of some remediable defect or because of some defect to which undue importance is attached at the moment. On the other hand, if, in an effort to be fair to the individual, men are accepted in spite of what appear to be minor defects the Government service may be burdened with a lot of people who are quite unfitted for it, and who could easily have been excluded if there had been a probationary period during which they could be studied individually. It seems clear that there is