Sunday, April 06, 2008

Staffing the Service

Diplopundit considers what I consider the most important issues facing the Foreign Service today, funding and staffing of the Service.

So from decades of underfunding and downsizing, here is the law of unintended consequences playing out now. Even if Congress approves the FY09 funding request, this is not going to ease the pain in Foreign Service posts worldwide in the immediate future. Writing for the Foreign Service Journal, FSO Mark Johnsen in One Hand Clapping: The Sound of Staffing the Foreign Service writes:

Developing a trained, professional force takes time —an average of 10 years of experience and training toreach mid-level proficiency. Even if the hiring ofentry-level officers were doubled or tripled tomorrow,it will take as long as it takes the average ForeignService officer to advance to senior ranks —between 20 and 30 years — to raise staffing by a third at all levels of the Foreign Service.

This is clear as night and day, even if we’re going to start hiring fast and furious, tomorrow, the mid-career staffing deficit is not going away very soon. Which means – we’ll see more mid-level Foreign Service officers holding, no - juggling the demands of 2-3 other jobs at a given post. The result is either we’ll have a spike in officer burnout or things are going to fall into the cracks. This is just not sustainable.

Mark Johnsen writes that the "actual shortfall for Foreign Service staffing was not 700 positions — the number commonly accepted at the time as the deficit and the target for the subsequent Diplomatic Readiness Initiative. Because of the additional, cumulative deficits that were never addressed... it was actually more like 2,000 to 3,500 positions." Although I must admit that 700 is better than 0, in the whole system scheme of things, I'm not sure how much of an impact this would have to our diplomatic readiness in the 21st century.

You can read Diplopundit's entire post here.

1 comment:

Bev Thacker said...

One issue that needs to be addressed is the inordinate amount of time it takes for the FS to decide to hire someone.

The first time I joined the FS it took over two years from the time I took and passed the written examine until I was called to Washington.

After resigning for family reasons over 20 years ago, I've restarted the process. Took and passed the written exam in September 2006, took and passed the oral assessment in January, completed my medical and security clearance in March.

I am single and now have 20 years of experience including international trade and state government. And yet, I expect it will be at least six more months (and could still be never, depending on where I rank on the hiring list) before any decision is made to hire me.

People's lives go on, they marry, have children, get new jobs, etc. in the time it takes for State to make a hiring decision. People who would be great officers get discouraged and the Service loses good people. There has to be a better way.