Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Can Someone Explain...

Can anyone explain to me why the Department, after all of the uproar over announcing the possibility of directed assignments first in the media, STILL seems to think it is better to tell the media before it tells us?? This came out yesterday...I was at work yesterday and there was no cable or email about this.

State Dept. Seeks Workers for Hot Spots

WASHINGTON (AP) - The State Department has begun looking for diplomats willing to take hundreds of unfilled positions at embassies and consulates in 15 dangerous countries after finding enough volunteers to avoid forcing some to go to Iraq.

Having averted an employee revolt over the prospect of ordered tours of duty in Iraq, the department is now seeking foreign service officers for more than 500 jobs at 21 diplomatic missions in those countries, which include Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials said Monday.

The selection process for the non-Iraq hardship posts, all of which are also of limited one-year duration and covered by restrictions banning or limiting the presence of family members, starts this week and should be completed by January, Foreign Service Director General Harry Thomas said. "Afghanistan and Pakistan will be first and then we will move to the other unaccompanied posts over the next several weeks," he said. The other nations in that category are Algeria, Bosnia, Burundi, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Lebanon, Liberia, Palau, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sudan and Yemen.

Thomas said he was "pretty confident" that volunteers would be found for all the jobs but stressed that if there were not enough, the department would force diplomats to fill them under threat of dismissal in the same so-called "directed assignments" system that ignited controversy over the Iraq positions.

"We reserve the right to direct assign at any time," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Thomas' comments followed the State Department's formal announcement that volunteers had come forward to take all 48 vacant positions at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and outlying provinces that will open next summer and that it would not have to force anyone to go to Iraq.

"We are pleased to announce that all of the Iraq jobs have been filled by volunteers," spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters, adding that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would be sending a worldwide cable congratulating the foreign service and those who answered the call.

McCormack said Rice had assured herself that all the volunteers were qualified and "that we met the bar that we had set for ourselves." "We, in no way, lowered the standards in order to get these volunteers," he said. "We're quite pleased that the Foreign Service and the State Department has stepped up to this challenge."

The prospect of the largest diplomatic call-up since Vietnam had caused an uproar among the 11,500-member Foreign Service. At a contentious town hall meeting late last month, the strength of their opposition came into public view as some diplomats protested the forced assignments, citing safety and security concerns.

Three foreign service personnel - two diplomatic security agents and one political officer - have been killed in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.

The complaints were a deep embarrassment to the department and led Rice and her deputy, John Negroponte, to remind diplomats of their duty to serve their government anywhere they are needed.

More than 1,500 diplomats have volunteered to work in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Still, the resistance to forced assignments generated bitter criticism of the diplomatic corps; some Internet commentators accused the foreign service of cowardice and treason.

At the Oct. 31 town hall meeting, hundreds of diplomats applauded when one likened a forced tour in Iraq to a "potential death sentence." Some at the session questioned the ethics of ordering unarmed civilians into a war zone and expressed concerns about a lack of training and medical care for those who have served.

The debate, often in nasty exchanges, has surfaced on the State Department's official blog. Last week, the Web log posted a critical message from a career diplomat in Iraq who accused opponents of directed assignments of being spoiled elitists and suggested they are "wimps and weenies." More than 200 people, including some who identify themselves as foreign service or military officers, had entered the fray on the Dipnote blog as of Monday, making it one of the most popular posts the two-month-old venture has published.

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