Why I Left the Foreign Service IV
Unwelcoming Reception in Rome. When I agreed to go from Warsaw to Rome, Embassy Rome said that they had an apartment for me. They said that I could not have my predecessor’s apartment, which frankly I found a little odd, but I thought, “Okay, they say they have a nice apartment, and it’s Rome.” When we arrived, however, after our contretemps with the government shutdown leaving Warsaw, it turned out that the embassy had given the apartment that they had promised to me to a DEA agent. I was a little ticked, because I thought that the State Department, which ran the administration for the embassy, should have given a little break to one of its own officers, and told the DEA agent that this apartment was allocated and that he would have to wait for the next apartment. That was my first clue that something was amiss in Rome. It took months for the embassy to find us an apartment. Meanwhile we camped out in temporary housing in an apartment house that the embassy had for people assigned temporarily to Rome to do short-term jobs.
In addition, between by predecessor’s departure and my arrival, the embassy had redesigned the science office suite. The way they had set it up, all of my assistant’s visitors had to pass through my office to get to her office. The doors should have been arranged so that her visitors could enter her office directly from the reception area. I don’t know what the suite had looked like before, but by the time I got there, the construction was completed.
Most importantly, the embassy did not want me. I had not realized that my assignment by the State Department was the result of a fight between the Embassy and the State Department headquarters in Washington. The previous Science Counselor had been a friend of the Ambassador’s. He had been a political appointee in Ambassador Bartholomew’s office, when Bartholomew had been an Under Secretary of State, and had traveled to Rome, when Bartholomew as assigned to Rome. However, the time he could serve as a political appointee, a Schedule C employee, ran out, and the State Department would not let him stay longer. I presume there was a big fight between the Embassy and Washington to try to get permission for him to stay. When that failed, the Embassy apparently decided that it wanted a particular Civil Service employee in Washington to replace him. The Foreign Service tries to look after its own, and apparently tried to block a Civil Service employee from taking a plum Foreign Service position in Rome. Thus, the call out of the blue to me in Warsaw asking if I would be willing to go to Rome. But after I arrived, it became clear that the Embassy had not given up and still wanted to get rid of me and get the Civil Service employee. Making my life difficult by not finding housing, for example, was part of that strategy. The Ambassador succeeded. I retired, and I think the State Department relented and approved the Civil Service employee as my replacement.
I guess I sound pretty weak in this description, not fighting the Embassy harder, but in my defense, ever since I didn’t fight the draft and agreed to go into the Army and off to Vietnam, my desire was to serve my country, not to have my country serve me. I was willing to put up with hardships that were imposed by external forces, like the North Vietnamese Army, or living and working at an embassy in a poor country with few amenities. But I was not willing to accept hardships or mistreatment that were imposed by the American Government itself, in the government shutdown, or by the unwelcoming reception in Rome. It was not the government that I volunteered to serve.
I should add that in contrast to the unwelcoming official reception in Rome, several of the officers there were personally very welcoming, from the Deputy Chief of Mission (the #2 in the Embassy) to my assistant, who got furloughed when I got un-furloughed in order to travel from Warsaw to Rome during the shutdown.