Thursday, October 09, 2008

State Department urged to boost hiring

From today's Government Executive:

State Department urged to boost hiring

If the State Department does not beef up its workforce, diplomatic programs will suffer and foreign policy will become more militarized, a new report warned.

"Today, significant portions of the nation's foreign affairs business simply are not accomplished," stated the report, released earlier this week by the American Academy of Diplomacy and the Stimson Center. "The work migrates by default to the military that does have the necessary people and funding, but neither sufficient experience nor knowledge. The 'militarization' of diplomacy exists and is accelerating... . The status quo cannot continue without serious damage to our vital interests." The report also studied staffing levels at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The report recommended that the State Department hire 4,735 more Foreign Service staffers and other key personnel between fiscal 2010 and 2014. New hires would be involved in core diplomatic efforts such as operating embassies and working with businesses and nongovernmental organizations abroad; engage in public diplomacy; administer economic assistance programs like those at USAID; and manage reconstruction and stabilization projects similar to ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those staffers would fill a 2008 shortfall of 2,400 employees, the authors said, and help State expand its activities while allowing more employees to receive much-needed training.

The authors identified USAID itself and public diplomacy programs at State as areas where more staff is critically needed. The number of public diplomacy staffers has fallen 24 percent, from 1,742 in 1986 to 1,332 in fiscal 2008. The current staffing levels are enough to sustain some traditional outreach efforts like media campaigns, the report said, but are not sufficient to allow public diplomacy officers to make extensive personal contacts and develop media efforts to reach out to younger generations.

Public diplomacy officers create and manage programs designed to inform audiences in other countries how American history, values and traditions shape the country's foreign policy.
The contrast at USAID is even more striking. In 1990, 3,500 people administered $5 billion in program funding for economic assistance; currently 2,200 staffers oversee $8 billion. The agency employs only five engineers to oversee projects worldwide, and 29 education officers are responsible for programs in 84 countries. As a result, the report said, USAID has stopped managing many programs directly and relies on 1,200 temporary contractors rather than on career staff with technical expertise directly relevant to the projects at hand.

The report was the latest salvo from the foreign affairs community in a battle to increase staff in a range of areas at State and USAID. The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy released in June its own comprehensive recommendations for reforming the public diplomacy workforce. The academy and the Stimson Center are co-sponsoring a forum next week on their report.

Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Federal Workforce Subcommittee respectively, have held a series of hearings on the subject. Voinovich in particular has expressed impatience with the idea that State has been asked to "do more with less."

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