Sunday, May 15, 2005

Remember the old grammar school report card rating, “works and plays well with others”? Well, Sen. George Voinovich wants that to be the personnel standard for serving in the U.S. Foreign Service, beginning with the nomination of John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations.

The Ohio Republican told the Foreign Relations Committee Mr. Bolton was the “poster child of what someone in the diplomat corps should not be.”

Mr. Bolton actually argued his position forcefully within the bowels of the State Department bureaucracy, ruffled the feathers of the prim civil service and intelligence officers and actually overruled some of their decisions.

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, had the perfect riposte. “We are not electing Mr. Congeniality. We do not need Mr. Milquetoast in the United Nations. We’re not electing Mr. Peepers to go there and just be really happy and drinking tea with their pinkies up.” He wanted someone who would stand up for U.S. interests instead.

The opposition party was giddy that the Republicans were squabbling. Ranking Democrat Joseph Biden first objected to Mr. Voinovich speaking before him but after the milquetoast remarks asked the Ohioan to deliver his minority response as well. The normally loquacious-to-windy Delaware senator, outdid himself with a 51-minute ramble that reportedly emptied the hearing room and provoked laughter when, 20 minutes later, he said, “Let me now turn to the nomination.”

Most of Mr. Biden’s remarks were routine nonsense about opposition to Mr. Bolton from many “officials serving in both Republican and Democratic administrations.” He claimed Mr. Bolton tried to overrule these “professionals” and insert his own “political” views in place of theirs. Of course, almost all were bureaucrats promoted internally through civil service procedures. In the case of State, these are known even within the federal personnel community — and supported by polling — as especially strong “old boy” networks that require adherence to universalistic rather than national-interest policy doctrines for advancement in their foreign service. Presidential appointees have little to nothing to say about appointments of 99.9 percent of these officials.

In fact, even in public administration’s purist doctrines, civil servants and presidential appointees have different functions. The civil servant is supposed to represent the long-term interests of the institution and the political appointee is supposed to lead them in the direction of the new administration’s policies endorsed in the most recent election.

Mr. Biden might do well to look at the law and find it is final decisions are the legal responsibility of the political official. This is not “political” but established constitutional administration.

In his ruminations, Mr. Biden actually agreed Undersecretary Bolton had many fine accomplishments during his many years of public service. He even called one of them “very important” and another “historic.” Yet, that did not matter. Johnny Bolton did not work and play well with others.

Fortunately, the full Senate gets to decide if Mr. Bolton becomes ambassador to the United Nations. President George W. Bush says he wants someone with a firm hand to deal with the world body, especially given its recent scandals. The White House announced after the Foreign Relations Committee reported the Bolton nomination “without recommendation” to the floor that it had the votes to confirm him.

All Americans with an ounce of sense should wish that vote count is correct. If being a Caspar Milquetoast is a requirement for future public office, the United States is doomed to become as comic as the H.T. Webster cartoon character that gives Sen. Voinovich’s new standard its name.

Donald Devine, former director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is a professor at Bellevue University, a columnist and editor of

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide