Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Diplopundit on Reforming the State Department: A Look Back

Diplopundit has a good piece today on reforming the State Department.

Reforming the State Department: A Look Back

Eight years ago as the new Bush administration came into office, an independent Task Force cosponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Center for Strategic and International Studies came out with a report on State Department Reform. The bipartisan group was led by Frank C. Carlucci, who was a former Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Secretary of Defense (1987-1989) and National Security Advisor (1987).

It is striking that some of the key issues addressed in this report have not really gone away. If I did not know that this was written in 2001, I’d think that this was written for the new president who will come into office in 75 days.

In its Memo to the President, the Task Force listed six problematic areas at the State Department - from long-term mismanagement to antiquated equipment, and dilapidated and insecure facilities. (Note: Thanks to Secretary Powell, State has gotten out of the Wang wilderness. On facilities, from 1999 to the end of calendar year 2005, State completed construction of 18 embassies and consulates at a cost of approximately $1.3 billion). But in 2008, one cannot help but marvel at this prescient perspective:

“These deficits are not only a disservice to the high-caliber men and women of the Foreign Service and the Civil Service who serve their country under the Department of State. They also handicap the ability of the United States to shape and respond to the opportunities and growing challenges of the 21st century. If this deterioration continues, our ability to use statecraft to avoid, manage, and resolve crises and to deter aggression will decline, increasing the likelihood that America will have to use military force to protect our interests abroad. In short, renewal of America’s foreign policy making and implementing machinery is an urgent national security priority.”


“Finally, not only has America’s foreign policy agenda become heavier, more interdisciplinary, and more complex, but it has to be exercised in an environment of growing threats. As societies abroad continue to experience radical social and economic change, they will become more unstable and at times less hospitable to Americans. And the danger posed by international terrorism is increasing. The last decade’s bombings against U.S. military and diplomatic facilities demonstrate that terrorist networks will become more global in reach, will wield greater destructive capacities, and will be more difficult to track and counter.”

“The Department of State’s human resource practices and administrative policies are dysfunctional.The department’s “up-and-out” promotion system is having the unintended effect of forcing qualified personnel out of the service. Its antiquated recruitment process is unable to meet the department’s workforce needs in both number and skills. The department’s lack of professional training opportunities for its personnel, its inattention to the family needs of its overseas personnel, and its inflexible grievance system have become major incentives for employees to seek work elsewhere.”


We need our smartest and our brightest to come forward now (not later, after retirement) and say here are the things that needs fixing and here’s how we’re going to fix them; here’s why we need your help and here’s what you will get in return, and here are the consequences for our inaction. But this is Colonel Boyd’s to be or to do moment, the proverbial fork on the road. So...who will come forward? Anybody there?

The sad part is, I can very well imagine us in 2020, looking back at this point and adding a few more dozen reports to the bibliography of reforming the State Department.

Among those major incentives to work elsewhere, I would argue, is the Department's continued treatment of its gay and lesbian employees as second class citizens. In a time when the Department is desperately understaffed and extending the time folks can stay on the register in order to fill all the slots they have for incoming Foreign Service Officers, current FSOs continue to have to choose between family and career. Many of the changes necessary to make the Department more friendly to gay and lesbian families are purely regulatory, and yet the Department continues to drag its feet and offer crumbs. Yes, it is nice that the partners of GLBT employees can now sit in the empty seats in the Security Overseas Seminar and it is great that they can take the short course in language. But when will the Department offer more assistance with visa, both overseas and here, so families can stay together? When will they offer equal employment opportunities to the spouses of GLBT employees so that their families can make ends meet?

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