From the National Archives: The Value of Consular Work, 1947.

Author:Langbart, David A.
Position:Commentary and Analysis

March/April 2017

Since creation of the American Foreign Service under the Rogers Act in 1924 by combining the separate Diplomatic Service and Consular Service, a perennial issue has been the value of consular work. Since unification, the consular aspect of the Foreign Service, which includes, among other things, adjudicating visas, issuing passports, promoting trade, and assisting American citizens overseas, has largely been considered secondary to political, economic, and other "substantive" activities. Those who aimed to make their mark within the Foreign Service shied away from consular work.

In 1947, Albert Clattenberg, Jr., prepared a memorandum that attempted to "overcome the impression that consular work... in the Foreign Service and in the Department is relatively unimportant [and that it]... constitutes a career dead end." Prepared at the request of Hamilton Robinson, director of the Office of Controls, for delivery to Assistant Secretary of State for Administration John Peurifoy, Clattenberg sent a copy to Charles E. ("Chip") Bohlen, then serving as Counselor of the Department. (1)

Clattenberg's cover memorandum to Bohlen read, in part:

The activities referred to are of the character which gives John Q. Public, whether in this country or any other country of the world, his decisive impression of the country whose officers he is dealing with and of the application of the professed ideals of that country in actual practice. I have long been convinced that in an atmosphere in which our slightest defects are the subject of all too willing an attack by others, the consular activities of our posts abroad are every bit as important as the political, economic and cultural activities whereby we seek to influence the world toward peace and mutual understanding. Weakness in any one link of the chain threatens the effectiveness of each of the others. The present disposition to underestimate the importance of services to the individual through the Department and the Foreign Service and to understaff and undercompensate these important services threatens to constitute such a weak link. ... I feel it my duty at this time to send you this memorandum because I feel that those in charge of the destinies of the Department should be as concerned for the high level of services rendered to the individual and the proper equipment of the Department and the Service for the purpose as they are for any other of our principal functions in carrying on the foreign relations of this country. (2) At the time he wrote the memorandum, Clattenberg was working in the Division of Protective Services. He was appointed to the Foreign Service in 1929 and had served at Athens, Patras, Batavia, and Hamburg performing both consular and diplomatic functions. During World War II, he was assistant chief of the Special Division and its successor the Special War Problems Division. After the war he became assistant chief and then chief of the Special Projects Division. Subsequently, Clattenberg served overseas at Lisbon, Montreal, Monaco and Nice, and in the Department as deputy director of the Visa Office.

Given that the issue persists to this day, it seems clear that the memorandum had little effect. Nonetheless, almost 70 years later it remains a valuable statement of the importance and worth of the consular work of the Foreign Service.

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