Below is a letter from John Naland, the president of AFSA, our employee association.
Straight Talk on Staffing and Resources
From AFSA President John Naland
America's diplomats and development professionals are struggling to accomplish their missions with inadequate operating budgets and hollowed-out staffing. The pending Fiscal Year 2009 budget request promises substantial help, but its prospects for passage are uncertain. AFSA is pushing for more resources with all of the tools at our disposal. We urge Secretary Rice and her management team to do the same. Now is the time to address these urgent needs. The next president will undoubtedly want a strong diplomatic corps to work hand-in-hand with our nation's strong military. Yet, if the current Congress were to miss this opportunity, it would be 2010 before the first additional State and USAID new-hires could finish their initial training. Waiting two more years for reinforcements is too long.
THIS YEAR'S BLEAK BUDGET
AFSA does not need to tell overseas members that this year's operating budget is bleak. We have heard from members worldwide reporting sharply reduced resources with which to accomplish their missions. The current predicament was accentuated when the White House's original Fiscal Year 2008 funding request to Congress failed to adequately consider such expenses as foreign currency exchange losses and government-wide annual salary increases. Then, Congress took that inadequate budget request and cut some $200 million from it.
Not only does the FY08 budget leave State unable to create any of the 254 new Foreign Service positions that the President requested this year, but it cannot fund all existing operations at current levels (excluding Embassy Iraq which is funded mostly by supplemental appropriations). The inadequate FY08 budget follows disappointing FY07 and FY06 budgets which also failed to fund requested staffing increases (outside of consular and diplomatic security). These Congressional refusals came despite sharply increasing Foreign Service staffing needs in Iraq, Afghanistan, hard language training, and other emerging priority areas.
As a result, literally hundreds of Foreign Service positions are now vacant. Last month, a State Department official said that 12 percent of all overseas Foreign Service positions (excluding Iraq and Afghanistan) were vacant and that 19 percent of all Foreign Service positions (domestic plus overseas) were vacant. Furthermore, 19 percent of filled mid-level generalist positions are held by employees "stretched" into a position designated for a more experienced person. This leaves posts worldwide struggling to accomplish their missions with hollowed-out Foreign Service staffing. This endangers U.S. national security in view of the ever-expanding demands being placed on U.S. diplomacy.
Additional funding for State operations this year might be available via an Iraq supplemental appropriation, but that is uncertain. For its part, AFSA is urging Congress to add $60.1 million to the FY08 supplemental to back-fill the 285 plus Foreign Service positions that were transferred to Iraq and to add $10.5 million to fund 50 FSI training billets for Arabic-language training for service in Iraq. These 335 positions were taken from posts worldwide and are a major cause of our understaffed embassies and consulates. The case for this funding is very strong, but AFSA is still looking for champions on the Hill to make it happen.
PROSPECTS FOR THE NEXT BUDGET
As previously reported, the President's now-pending FY09 budget request seeks to add 1,076 new positions at State and 300 at USAID (almost all for Foreign Service personnel). AFSA would have preferred to have seen this funding request made in Secretary's Rice's first -- not last -- year in office, but it undeniably represents a commendable push to better staff and fund the diplomatic platform upon which foreign policy and development assistance are implemented.
AFSA is supporting this push for resources with all of the tools at our disposal. We have solicited bipartisan support for the Administration budget request in face-to-face meetings with key lawmakers, in testimony at a formal Congressional hearing, and in numerous letters to the Hill. On the media front, we have highlighted the budget and staffing needs in broadcast interviews on CNN, the Lehrer Newshour, and three different NPR shows. AFSA comments and information on budget and staffing gaps have been incorporated in articles by major media including the Washington Post, Washington Times, Federal Times, NPR, Bloomberg News, Government Executive magazine, and major wire services. We have placed op-eds, editorials, or letters-to-editors addressing these issues in the Washington Post, Washington Times, Federal Times, and the Houston Chronicle. At AFSA's urging, numerous AFSA members have published their own views in support of budget and staffing needs in local papers around the country. AFSA also provided background information on this issue to participants in our national Speakers Program reaching audiences in 44 states and Washington, D.C.
Unfortunately, it remains unclear how the budget process will play out this year. Election year dynamics could scuttle the normal process and defer action to the next President and the 111th Congress. AFSA, of course, cannot dictate the timing of Congressional action. However, we are urging key lawmakers to make a maximum effort to get the highest possible budget allocation as far through the appropriation process as possible. Even if no bill passes this year, maintaining strong budget request numbers through this year's process could facilitate the passage of a robust budget early next calendar year.
Toward that end, AFSA is most appreciative of the March 14 success by Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, cosponsored by Ranking Member Richard G. Lugar (R-IN), in restoring the full amount of the President's budget request for International Affairs. This Biden-Lugar initiative passed the Senate by a vote of 73 to 23 and overturned an earlier move by the Senate Budget Committee to strip $4.1 billion from the President's request. To see who supported -- and who opposed -- full funding for diplomacy and development assistance, see http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi- bin/bdquery/z?d110:SP4245: .
Secretary Rice and her management team are, of course, pushing for this budget request that they earlier worked so hard to get through the Office of Management and Budget. AFSA urges them to keep it up -- not only in traditional formal budget hearings, but in a behind-the-scenes full-court press such as was needed to secure funding for the "Diplomatic Readiness Initiative" during the Administration's first term. History will judge Secretary Rice not only on her foreign policy initiatives, but also on her ability to obtain the resources necessary to conduct diplomacy. Thus, in an April 2 meeting with Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, and Director General Harry Thomas, we urged that the Administration make a maximum effort to get the highest possible Congressional appropriation for diplomacy and development assistance.
AFSA's position remains that now is the time to address these urgent budget and staffing needs. The next president, whoever he or she is, will undoubtedly want a strong diplomatic corps to work hand- in-hand with our nation's strong military. Yet, if the current Congress were to miss this opportunity, it would be 2010 before the first additional State and USAID new-hires could finish their initial training. Waiting two more years for reinforcements is too long. It would reduce the new president's flexibility in crafting foreign policy, and continue to place undue burdens on the uniformed military to carry out tasks for which they are ill-suited.
We recognize that Congress is under severe budget pressure with many domestic and national security priorities clamoring for additional resources. But Congress must realize that it -- just as much as the Executive Branch -- is responsible for giving diplomats the resources they need to do their jobs. Yet, even as ever more resources have been allocated to the uniformed military (including funding to increase military staffing by 92,000) America's diplomats and development professionals have been left with inadequate operating budgets and hollowed-out staffing. Even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has remarked on the incongruence of these trends. Congress needs to move this year to adequately fund the civilian arm of national security. If they do not do so, then Foreign Service members worldwide will know that Capitol Hill is where the failure to act took place. Thus, AFSA calls on Congress to act.