Remarks by Under Secretary Lago - July 17

Washington, DC
July 17, 2023

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Diane, for that wonderful introduction. The Department of Commerce benefits from your steady, expert and caring leadership every day. 

I am excited to welcome our new commercial officers and to have your families, friends and colleagues joining us for this important milestone. Congratulations on your achievements in getting to today’s ceremony and on beginning the next phase of your career of public service.

On this significant occasion, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the origin of the U.S. Foreign Service and the Foreign Commercial Service. Almost 100 years ago, in July of 1924, the Rogers Act fundamentally reformed the foreign services by establishing a career Foreign Service composed of professionals who possess a keen understanding of the affairs, cultures and languages of other countries and who are available to serve in assignments throughout the world. Just three years later, by an Act of Congress, the Foreign Commercial Service was established within the Department of Commerce for “promotion of foreign and domestic commerce.” Fast forward 12 years, when Congress moved the Foreign Commercial Service into the State Department where it remained for nearly 40 years.

While the State Department had the primary responsibility for handling overseas commercial work, their commercial officers at U.S. embassies implemented programs that were designed, managed and offered to U.S. businesses nationwide by the Commerce Department in Washington, D.C. It was not until 1980 that the Administration of President Jimmy Carter transferred primary responsibility for overseas commercial work from State to Commerce. The newly minted Department of Commerce “U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service” was established to emphasize the linkage of domestic and overseas operations under a single organization.

At that time, there were 17 staff members at headquarters in Washington, D.C. and an overseas staff of 162 Commercial Officers, 487 locally engaged staff in countries across the globe, and 15 secretarial positions. 

We have grown five-fold since that time. Today, over 250 women and men from diverse backgrounds, as well as over 700 Locally Engaged Staff make up the Foreign Commercial Service. We are fortunate that this team includes over 30 temporary officers from our partner bureaus across the Department of Commerce, including the Bureau of Industry and Security, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Our footprint has expanded over the decades. Last year, we opened a new office in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and in the coming months we are looking forward to opening new offices in Guyana, Côte d’Ivoire, and Zambia.

Women have been part of the U.S. Foreign Service for over 100 years, with Addie Viola Smith’s appointment in 1920 as the Trade Commissioner in Beijing. But, the Foreign Commercial Service has struggled, and continues to struggle, to reflect the diversity of the U.S. population. I applaud the Biden-Harris Administration and our own Commerce Secretary Raimondo for their intentional and sustained efforts to create a Foreign Commercial Service that is more representative of America. As President Biden has said, “our diversity is, and always has been, our greatest strength as a nation.” This progress doesn’t come all at once, but through continued, intentional meaningful efforts to foster diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. 

Today, 17 new officers took the oath to join the FCS family, and will soon receive their commission from the President. That commission will state that the President, “reposing special trust and confidence in your integrity, prudence and ability,” empowers you to carry out your duties as Foreign Service Officers.

Representing the United States as a commercial diplomat is a unique honor and responsibility: sought by many, but achieved by few. It requires all those traits mentioned in your commission—including initiative, leadership, adaptability and resourcefulness. It also entails personal sacrifices, both by you and your family members.

In the coming weeks, you will learn the nature of our business, the unique value that we bring to our clients, and how to serve on the front lines of building and strengthening U.S commercial diplomacy.

Some of the experiences and knowledge that you will add to your skillset include building effective teams with our Locally Engaged Staff, developing strong relationships with our overseas business community, representing the United States of America while hosting government officials, and modeling the Commercial Service’s values at all times.

Many describe the Foreign Commercial Service as not just a job, but as a lifestyle. Life in the FCS affects much more than just the officers themselves. It also has a direct impact on those close to them. Whether it’s being far from home during a holiday or birthday, or changing schools as you move to each new Post, or the sadness of leaving loved ones behind, I want to acknowledge and thank you—the mates, children, parents and friends of these new FCS officers—for your strength, support and patriotism as you embark on this journey together.

All of us here today want you to succeed, and we will provide you with the support, guidance and resources that you will need as you, your families and your friends join our distinguished team of ace frontline global trade and commercial diplomats.

To our new officers, once again a warm welcome to the U.S. Department of Commerce, to the International Trade Administration and to the Foreign Commercial Service!

And now, it is my pleasure to turn the floor back over to the Director General and Assistant Secretary for Global Markets, Arun Venkataraman.