Two new innovations of our foreign service are being prepared. One is designed to help recruit personnel with the ability and integrity required to advance Korea’s national interests in the global community. The other is designed to correctly evaluate the performances of diplomats posted overseas. A bill for the establishment of the National Foreign Service Institute (NFSI) passed the National Assembly standing committee last week and was submitted to the plenary session for a final vote, possibly in July.
The legislation aims to produce diplomats through a year-long training program at the NFSI. Some 150 applicants will be admitted into the institute from 2013 and 100 of them will be selected as new diplomats a year later. The most significant change will be the replacement of a one-time written test for new recruits with extended training of candidate diplomats selected on the basis of their PSAT (public service aptitude test) scores and essay writing.
The service evaluation system will go into practice in July or August. Diplomats on overseas assignments will be asked once a year to make reports on their activities to eight different departments in the Foreign Ministry, where these reports will be closely examined along with other materials. Results of the appraisal will be reflected in reassignments, resulting in the extension or shortening of the period of service overseas.
These new personnel systems are being introduced as a remedy for what outsiders called “languidness” in the foreign service after irregularities were exposed in the special recruitment process last year and a sex scandal involving Korean diplomats at the consulate general in Shanghai was reported earlier this year.
What is desired at this time, when real changes are sought for the first time in the 63-year history of the Foreign Ministry, is greater emphasis on developing our diplomats’ specialized language abilities for different countries, as well as cultural expertise with which they can effectively engage in public diplomacy. Of as much importance is excluding educational, regional and social backgrounds in new assignments and relying solely on performance records. This perhaps will prove to be the most difficult part in the ministry’s quest for innovation.