Wednesday, December 31, 2008

ST: Sizing Up Diplomacy

This illustrative piece from the Seattle Times was sent out by AFSA, our employee organization. I wonder how many people outside the Foreign Service got the correct answer.

Sizing up U.S. diplomacy
How many diplomats does the U.S. government have in active service?

Throughout the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, President-elect Obama talked forcefully about the need to repair frayed relations with allies. To make it all happen, the new administration must rely on its diplomats. How many diplomats does the U.S. government have in active service?

A. 57,000

B. 12,000

C. 6,400

D. 4,700

How many diplomats does the U.S. government have in active service?

A. 57,000 is not correct.

The State Department employs roughly 57,000 people. However, 31,000 are foreign nationals working overseas as support staff in U.S. embassies and consulates. The United States maintains diplomatic relations with nearly 180 of 191 countries, as well as with several international organizations. Altogether, the State Department maintains nearly 265 diplomatic and consular posts.

B. 12,000 is not correct.

The State Department employs approximately 12,000 Foreign Service personnel. This number includes foreign-service officers as well as support staff and diplomatic security agents, a significant number of whom are stationed in the United States. Throughout much of the 1990s, overseas diplomatic staffing was significantly reduced, as the United States cashed in on the "peace dividend" brought about by the end of the Cold War. Although this trend began to reverse itself by 1997, the American Academy of Diplomacy estimates that the State Department faces a personnel shortfall of more than 2,000 staff-years relating to enduring core diplomatic work, emerging policy challenges and critical training needs.

C. 6,400 is correct.

Among all State Department employees, 6,400 — or 11 percent — are diplomats, meaning they are engaged in government-to-government diplomacy and represent U.S. interests and advocate U.S. policy positions abroad.

Coincidentally, this number is roughly equal to the personnel stationed aboard a typical U.S. aircraft-carrier battle group, such as the USS Enterprise.

D. 4,700 is not correct.

The American Academy of Diplomacy estimates that the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development will need to increase their ranks by 4,700 employees between 2010 and 2014 in order to carry out U.S. diplomatic initiatives successfully. For instance, the public diplomacy staff, which seeks to influence foreign publics by promoting U.S. policies, culture, society and values, is 24 percent smaller than in 1986.

And speaking of increasing the size of the Foreign Service, here is a comment from the blog Enough:

A good article in the January/February edition of Foreign Affairs by former President of the American Foreign Service Association J. Anthony Holmes advocates dramatically increasing the number of Foreign Service Officers (FSOs). Holmes offers some powerful statistics:

The number of lawyers at the Defense Department is larger than the entire U.S. diplomatic corps, there are more musicians in the military bands than there are U.S. diplomats, and the Defense Department’s 2008 budget was over 24 times as large as the combined budgets of the State Department and USAID ($750 billion compared with $31 billion).

Enough made similar calls for reform in a recent report, which noted that that in order to more effectively prevent conflict and mass atrocities, the U.S. Government must address the critical “mismatch between resources and requirements” at the State Department - sentiments which were echoed by former U.S. Ambassador for counter-narcotics in Afghanistan Thomas Schweich in the Washington Post

Monday, December 29, 2008

DSJ's Cautionary Tale

Disaffected Scanner Jockey, a former diplomatic spouse, offers a "Cautionary Tale" about being a "trailing spouse." It should be required reading for anyone considering joining the Foreign Service and their spouses.

A Cautionary Tale


The Foreign Service doesn’t create new problems. It takes the flaws and marital issues you already have and blows them wide open. I believe my divorce would have happened with or without the added stress of living overseas. It just happened a whole lot quicker than it would have back home. This is actually a very lucky thing, as both of us were young enough to pick up and start over.

The couples I see with the most success are the ones with an escape clause. Before they even fill out their first form, they sit down and say, “We’ll give it a fair shot for two years, if either of us is unhappy we’ll go home.” Truth is, life as an FS spouse can be stifling. There aren’t a whole lot of outlets or opportunities, just the endless rounds of Embassy life. So don’t enter into a Foreign Service marriage unless you’ve got a commitment that you can go home if you aren't happy.

And, yes, being a Foreign Service spouse can be intellecually and emotionally stifling. Your sense of self is under near-constant attack.


And, once you get on that plane, your career is over. Some people enjoy the Embassy hobby-jobs set aside for them, some enjoy the extra family time, some work a miracle and get a job with an overseas corporation. The people who do maintain their careers will blather about how you have to be up to the challenge, flexible and so on. (These people are even more annoying than they sound.) But, really, you’re never going to get to the corner office. A few weeks ago, I calculated that my Foreign Service sojourn probably cost me at least $50,000 lost income potential. Money well spent, but it takes a long time to dig out of a career hiatus.

You can read the entire post here. I recommend it.

She couldn't be more right. I am in the service because it is so hard to be a trailing spouse. The situation is even harder for a "member of household," since because we aren't "eligible family members," we generally don't get even the paultry jobs (DSJ calls them "hobby-jobs") offered to spouses. The simple fact for an FS spouse is that unless you want to be a stay at home mom or dad, your chances for personal fullfillment are slim. (Even internet businesses are seldom a possibility because you can't use the APO for shipping or receiving and overseas shipping is impossibly expensive.)

So, as those of you who have been reading this for a while know, I quit archaeology, a career I loved, rather than face either a career apart or no career at all. I have mixed feelings about the choice, though I think it was ultimately for the best. But not everyone can or should make that choice. Some people can be perfectly happy with the life of a "trailing spouse." And not being able to is not, as DSJ says, a personality flaw. People should have reasonable expectations of what they will face in the foreign service and the what the choices are they will have to make.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

NYT: Clinton Moves to Widen Role of State Dept.

I know I said I was taking a hiatus for the holidays, but I wanted to make sure you saw this piece in yesterday's New York Times online. Besides, my vacation spot has wireless this time!

Clinton Moves to Widen Role of State Dept.

WASHINGTON — Even before taking office, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seeking to build a more powerful State Department, with a bigger budget, high-profile special envoys to trouble spots and an expanded role in dealing with global economic issues at a time of crisis.

Mrs. Clinton is recruiting Jacob J. Lew, the budget director under President Bill Clinton, as one of two deputies, according to people close to the Obama transition team. Mr. Lew’s focus, they said, will be on increasing the share of financing that goes to the diplomatic corps. He and James B. Steinberg, a deputy national security adviser in the Clinton administration, are to be Mrs. Clinton’s chief lieutenants.

Nominations of deputy secretaries, like Mrs. Clinton’s, would be subject to confirmation by the Senate.

The incoming administration is also likely to name several envoys, officials said, reviving a practice of the Clinton administration, when Richard C. Holbrooke, Dennis Ross and other diplomats played a central role in mediating disputes in the Balkans and the Middle East.

As Mrs. Clinton puts together her senior team, officials said, she is also trying to carve out a bigger role for the State Department in economic affairs, where the Treasury has dominated during the Bush years. She has sought advice from Laura D’Andrea Tyson, an economist who headed Mr. Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers.

The steps seem intended to strengthen the role of diplomacy after a long stretch, particularly under Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in which the Pentagon, the vice president’s office and even the intelligence agencies held considerable sway over American foreign policy.


The recruitment of Mr. Lew — for a position that was not filled in the Bush administration — suggests that Mrs. Clinton is determined to win a larger share of financial resources for the department. A well-connected figure who was once an aide to Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill, Mr. Lew now works for Citigroup in a unit that oversees hedge funds.

“If we’re going to re-establish diplomacy as the critical tool in America’s arsenal,” a senior transition official said, “you need someone who can work both the budget and management side. He has very strong relations on the Hill; he knows the inner workings of how to manage a big enterprise.”

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private, said Mrs. Clinton was being supported in her push for more resources by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Mr. Obama’s incoming national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones Jr.

For years, some Pentagon officials have complained that jobs like the economic reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq have been added to the military’s burden when they could have been handled by a robust Foreign Service.

“The Pentagon would like to turn functionality over to civilian resources, but the resources are not there,” the official said. “We’re looking to have a State Department that has what it needs.”

Mrs. Clinton’s push for a more vigorous economic team, one of her advisers said, stems from her conviction that the State Department needs to play a part in the recovery from the global financial crisis. Economic issues also underpin some of the most important diplomatic relationships, notably with China.

In recent years, the Treasury Department, led by Henry M. Paulson Jr., has dominated policy toward China. Mr. Paulson leads a “strategic economic dialogue” with China that involves several agencies. It is not yet clear who will pick up that role in the Obama administration, although Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is frequently mentioned as a possibility.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

NYT: Hiring Window Is Open at the Foreign Service

I had expected to be taking a hiatus from blogging for much of this week, as I am on vacation speinding Christmas with my family. However, I found this piece today at the New York Times online and wanted to pass it along.

Hiring Window Is Open at the Foreign Service

A RARE bright spot has appeared in a job landscape dominated by layoffs: the Foreign Service.

For the last several years, hiring in the United States Foreign Service was minimal because of a lack of Congressional funding. In addition, war has created an urgent need for diplomatic personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as officers have moved to these countries their previous jobs have remained unfilled.

So, in the last several months — with a new president on the horizon and new funding from Congress — both the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development, or Usaid, are ramping back up.

A supplemental war funding bill, which became law in June, has provided money for Foreign Service hiring. And President-elect Barack Obama “has talked explicitly about the need to increase the Foreign Service and we hope he will make that a priority,” said John Naland, president of the American Foreign Service Association, the professional association and labor union representing career diplomats.

The State Department has asked for funding for 1,500 new positions for the current fiscal year. Of these, roughly 800 are Foreign Service and 700 civil service, said Luis Arreaga, director of recruitment, examination and employment at the department. Many of those positions are being filled because of attrition but about 160 are new. "We consider that a down payment,” said Mr. Arreaga.

Felix Salazar, hired as a junior officer by the State Department in September, said that during the interview process he felt “a sense of urgency, that they were actively hiring and really valued my experience.” Mr. Salazar, who spent three years in the Peace Corps, leaves in February for his first posting, in South Africa.

Not everyone is cut out for Foreign Service work, which can be stressful and highly demanding. About two-thirds of a diplomat’s career is spent overseas; officers usually move every two to four years and can be exposed to dangers like disease and war. The State Department offers a suitability quiz for prospective applicants on its Web site.

Yet career diplomats like Ronald E. Neumann, a former ambassador to Afghanistan who now heads the American Academy of Diplomacy, called it the best job in the world. “I enjoy what I’m doing now but it’s nothing like working on foreign policy,” he said. “In my 37 years of service I may have gone home tired or frustrated with how a decision came out, but I never went home and asked myself if what I was working on was worthwhile.”

Applying for a job with the State Department involves written and oral examinations. Those who pass the oral exam become conditional officers and receive a ranking score based on oral-exam performance and language skills. The higher the rank, the sooner they will be assigned.

Of the 12,000 to 15,000 people who register annually for the written exam, about 450 officers are hired, said Frank J. Coulter, management officer with the Foreign Service and a member of the State Department’s board of examiners.

The first time he took the written exam, Mr. Salazar failed, after running out of time during the essay portion. He was so determined to pass that he spent the next year writing an essay in 30 minutes every day. “When I took it the second time and got my results, it actually sent chills down my spine,” he said.

New Foreign Service officers at the State Department choose one of five career tracks: consular affairs, economic affairs, management affairs, political affairs or diplomacy. No matter the track, all entry-level officers spend their first several years working in a consulate, interviewing applicants for United States visas and working with American citizens who need their help.

The State Department also hires Foreign Service specialists, who provide technical, security and administrative support overseas or in Washington. Specialists must pass an oral assessment but not a written exam, and start in a specialty like medicine, information technology or law enforcement, Mr. Coulter said. All newly hired officers and specialists are trained at the Foreign Service Institute in Washington.

Each of the first two postings overseas last two years; after that, it is generally a three-year posting in each country. One-year hardship postings — in a region too dangerous to allow an officer’s spouse and children to accompany him or her — are required at least twice in the course of a career. After two assignments, Foreign Service personnel can bid on postings — requesting particular countries or Washington — but everyone is expected to serve in a variety of assignments, Mr. Arreaga said.


THE base salary for entry-level Foreign Service officers ranges from about $40,000 to $72,000 annually, but compensation can increase depending on the danger level of the posting and on a region’s cost of living.

For Foreign Service specialists, the salary range is anywhere from about $26,500 to more than $100,000; for civil service employees at Usaid, the salary ranges from $16,500 to over $100,000. Overseas benefits include housing and private school for dependent children.

Many of those choosing Foreign Service work do so out of a dedication to public service and see it as not just a career, but also a way of life.

Salman Khalil, hired in May, took a 50 percent cut in take-home pay to join the Foreign Service after a decade in the I.T. industry. Any day now he will leave for his first assignment, in India. “In my I.T. profession I was helping big companies make more money and it wasn’t satisfying for me,” he said. “What I wanted to do was serve in a capacity where I could directly help people.”

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas? What Christmas?

Diplopundit had this piece today:

Of course, Leahy’s letter [to Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA)] started with this blurb for public record: “As I hope you know, I honored your request and asked Secretary Rice to facilitate your 14-day trip to 10 countries from December 25 through January 7. Please do let me know who the other Senators are who will be accompanying you.” Heh!

Al Kamen of WaPo did a big “Hmmm” on this. He speculated that “Leahy, as Judiciary chairman, probably authorized Specter’s congressional delegation, though it’s possible he didn’t know that the “delegation” was just Specter and his wife and an aide, who are taking a military jet to Europe and the Middle East over the holidays. The itinerary includes stops in England, Israel (his 26th visit), Syria (18th) and Austria. The Austria stop is for a chat with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei.”

In short, at least ten unfortunate diplomats in mostly sparkling capital cities (London, Jerusalem, Damascus, Vienna plus six more) will be working as control officers for the congressional delegation over the holidays. Sorry guys and gals, you are public servants and should never be off duty. The local staff would have to be drafted especially the drivers. The Community Liaison Officers would also need to be drafted unless no shopping spree is in order (no shopping? where's the fun in that?). I wonder if our diplomats get brownie points if they’re “it” for Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day? No, there's no overtime. What, comptime? Forgetaboutit.

I can certainly sympathize. As a Junior Officer in Jerusalem, I worked on nearly a dozen Secretary visits, numerous congressional visits (CODELS) and one First lady visit. Almost inevitably, these visits occurred over holidays or long weekends (we were actually told this was intentional so as not to "interfere" with our regular business.

We were offered comp time, but comp time expires after a relatively short period of time, so most of us were never able to use it. Small wonder we all came out of there stressed and exhausted. I was advised when I first arrived there to get out of town as often as possible to recharge my batteries, because the stress of being in a place that lives and breathes the Palestinian-Israeli conflict 24/7 is really taxing. But the reality is that it is really difficult to take time off. I came back to DC, even given as little leave as a junior officer earns, with "use or lose" leave (yes, not only did my comp time expire, but they were threatening to take away my earned annual leave).

Luckily I never had to work Christmas (purely dumb luck) or Easter (also dumb luck). And while those who did got sympathy, they got nothing else.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The possibility of fairness

The Washington Blade had an article this week on how President-elect Obama's cabinet picks could impact gay rights.

A lesbian in Obama’s cabinet?
Speculation swirls around Maxwell for labor secretary
By CHRIS JOHNSON, Washington Blade

President-elect Barack Obama this week was reportedly considering nominating an openly gay person to serve as labor secretary.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Obama was considering Mary Beth Maxwell, the founding executive director of American Rights at Work, to head the Labor Department. If nominated, and confirmed by the Senate, she would be the nation’s first openly gay cabinet member.


Cabinet picks could impact gay rights

Meanwhile, Obama this week nominated several other prominent figures to fill key cabinet positions. The nominees would hold positions that would significantly influence how the administration handles gay issues.

Gays working in the State Department, for example, could benefit from Obama’s choice of gay-supportive Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) as secretary of state.

The head of the State Department could change rules on how the department treats the partners of gay Foreign Service officers, who are not entitled to the same benefits as the spouses of straight Foreign Service officers.

Michelle Schohn, head of Gays & Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, said partners of their gay Foreign Service officers are not included in travel orders, not eligible for health insurance, not entitled to emergency or medical evacuation, and not eligible for more than basic language and security training at the Foreign Service Institute — unlike the spouses of their straight counterparts.

The State Department also provides no help in providing visas for the partners of gay Foreign Service officers, and while the department will pick up various travel expenses when moving overseas, including the cost of transporting a pet, the department will not reimburse costs for transporting a domestic partner, she said.

Michael Guest, former U.S. ambassador to Romania, retired from the State Department last year in protest because of these inequities and said they could have been rectified by a rule change from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Guest declined to comment for this article.

Schohn said Clinton could change things by making the partners of gay Foreign Service officers “eligible family members” as opposed to considering them “members of household.”

“Senator Clinton can, with the stroke of a pen, grant the families of LGBT employees equality,” Schohn said. “I am hopeful that Senator Clinton will see this as a matter of simple fairness and offer the protections to our families that will enable us to continue to serve.”


You can read the whole article here.

Friday, December 05, 2008

AP: Clinton looks to loyalists for State Department staff

Clinton looks to loyalists for State Department staff
By Matthew Lee
Associated Press

WASHINGTON: Preparing for her new role as secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton is moving to surround herself with a cast of die-hard loyalists and veterans of her husband's administration to help her cope with world crises and backstage Washington power plays.

For her team of foreign policy experts, the nation's third female secretary of state is expected to draw heavily from the staff of the first, Madeleine Albright, who was an early supporter of Clinton's unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

And to deal with internal Obama administration affairs, State Department bureaucratic politics and media pressures, the former first lady appears set to tap current Senate aides and former White House ''Hillaryland'' stalwarts, whose reputation for insularity and staunch protectiveness has already set off anxiety among career foreign service officers.

State Department officials say they have been told to expect visits as early as next week from Clinton advisers who are working with President-elect Barack Obama's incoming transition team. Members of the new administration's team have been at State since mid-November, getting briefings and visiting officials there. Neither the transition team nor Clinton's office would comment.

Those officials and people familiar with the transition say most, if not all of Clinton's growing team of advisers will be tapped for senior State Department positions.

James Steinberg, President Bill Clinton's former deputy national security adviser, who was once thought a prospect to become Obama's national security adviser, is now ''a lock'' to become deputy secretary of state under Clinton, according to people close to the transition who spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcements have yet been made.

On the policy side, there is strong speculation that Clinton's Senate foreign policy adviser, Andrew Shapiro, will play a leading role as will Lee Feinstein, who was her national security adviser during the campaign. Feinstein is a member of the State Department transition team and served as deputy policy planning director under Albright.

For Clinton's personal staff, names already floated include longtime confidante and 2008 Clinton presidential campaign manager Maggie Williams, attorney Cheryl Mills, personal assistant Huma Abedin, current senior adviser and spokesman Philippe Reines and Clinton's chief of staff when she was first lady, Melanne Verveer.

All are known to be fiercely loyal. The prospect of their imminent arrival in Foggy Bottom has been a hot topic of nervous corridor conversation among many in the professional diplomatic corps who fear they will be frozen out of positions of influence.

Doug Hattaway, a former spokesman for Al Gore's 2000 presidential bid who also worked for Clinton during the primaries, has been mentioned as a favorite to become the next State Department spokesman.

Albright's high-profile former spokesman, James Rubin, along with top Albright assistant Suzy George, have already been seen at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. They are working with a group that will smooth the way for the next U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Albright protege Susan Rice, whose defection to the Obama camp during the 2008 campaign caused a stir among Clinton loyalists. Rubin, based in New York, is advising the transition team.

A look at the Obama camp's agency review team for the State Department and its national security policy working group provides hints as to other potential appointments.

Among those who served in the Albright State Department are former counselor Wendy Sherman, counterterrorism coordinator Michael Sheehan, law enforcement chief Rand Beers, arms control expert Robert Einhorn, former ambassador to Indonesia Robert Gelbard and Mideast hands Daniel Kurtzer, Dennis Ross and Toni Verstandig. All are potential candidates for top slots.

One notable name on the list is Michael Guest, one of only two openly gay ambassadors ever to represent the United States overseas. Guest resigned from the foreign service in mid-career last December to protest the State Department's treatment of same-sex partners of diplomats.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Politically Appointed Vs Career Foreign Service Officers

Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post reported this item yesterday and I have noticed quite a few mentions of it in other blogs:

Obama Gives Political Ambassadors Their Pink Slips
By Glenn Kessler
The incoming Obama administration has notified all politically-appointed ambassadors that they must vacate their posts as of Jan. 20, the day President-elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office, a State Department official said.

The clean slate will open up prime opportunities for the president-elect to reward political supporters with posts in London, Paris, Tokyo and the like. The notice to diplomatic posts was issued this week.

Political ambassadors sometimes are permitted to stay on briefly during a new administration, but the sweeping nature of the directive suggests that Obama has little interest in retaining any of Bush's ambassadorial appointees.

Most ambassadors, of course, are foreign service officers, but often the posts involving the most important bilateral relations (such as with Great Britain, Japan and India) or desirable locales (such as the Bahamas) are given to close friends and well-heeled contributors of the president.

UN Dispatch was one of the blogs commenting on the development (which, just to be clear is not a HUGE development...all ambassadors, even career Foreign Service Officers, offer their resignation at the end of an administration. It is true that some are allowed to stay, at least for a little while. This is just more overt than usual).

Politically Appointed Vs Career Foreign Service Officers?

Matthew Yglesias links to this item explaining that President-elect Barack Obama has ordered all politically appointed ambassadors to vacate their posts by January 20th. Matt says:

"I had always just thought of this is a kind of casual, widely accepted corruption. But recently I did learn the official story as to why this is good practice, namely that an important political supporter or a friend of the president is likely to have a much easier time of getting access to the Oval Office than any mere foreign service officer would. Thus, it's arguably better for the host country to have a political appointee than a career FSO. Therefore, this practice helps build good-will and so forth."

This may be true, but it should be pointed out that many ambassadors to posts that require actual trouble-shooting are often career foreign service officers. The United States ambassador to Chad Louis J. Nigro, for example, joined the foreign service in 1980. Is it really more desirable that the Ambassador to say, Holland, have easier access to the Oval Office than say, Mr. Nigiro? I'm doubtful.

I admit I am a fan of reducing (I don't expect the practice to stop) the number of political appointee Ambassadors, for a number of reasons. First, you don't see political appointee Generals or Admirals. Why? Because we expect the leaders of our soldiers to be professional soldiers themselves, with the years of training and experience they have built up coming through the ranks serving them as they make life and death decisions. Can you imagine a "Brownie" leading our troops the way Mike Brown led FEMA? Of course not. It is the same with the Foreign Service. We are the "soft power" to the military's "hard power." We are professional diplomats with the training and experience to effectively serve our country's foreign policy objectives. Just knowing the President doesn't give you those qualifications. I will admit there are political appointees who are very very good and who bring useful skill sets to the job. But there are also political appointees who bring nothing more than a receipt for their contribution. Do they have better access to the White House? Maybe. But I would hope my President would be wise enough to listen to his Ambassadors from all countries, because crisis can strike anywhere and small countries can have big global impacts.

And second, political appointees hurt morale. Most of us serve knowing that no matter how good we are, we can't expect to attain the highest positions in the Department unless we win the lottery. Only one Secretary of State has been a career Foreign Service Officer (points if you know who), and many of the Under Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, and the Ambassadors at the nicest posts are political appointees. Which sends a strong message that the rank and file don't measure up.

And the truth is we do measure up. We serve, year after year, advancing the President's foreign policy to the best of our abilities agenda regardless of who occupies the White House. Because we are professionals. And just like professional soldiers, we should be able to expect that the majority of our leaders have gotten where they are by succeeding on the same path we are walking, not by the size of their checkbook or the happenstance of their birth.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Mission for the national security team: rebuild America's 'soft power'

There are a couple of pieces today on rebuilding America's "soft power." From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Worldview: The focus is on 'soft power'
Obama's new security team must first rebuild America's diplomatic machine.


Gates and Jones want to bolster our capacity to project "soft power" - diplomacy, and foreign aid for development and reconstruction. They view soft power as an essential complement to hard, military power, and as a way to prevent future conflicts.

Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton supports this shift, though she sought to project a tough-guy image in the presidential race. It will fall to her to implement one of the hardest parts of the new strategy - rebuilding a State Department so depleted that it can't do what needs to be done.

For years, the Bush administration derided soft power as "social work" - no substitute for the tough work of war-making. Its attitudes shifted as Afghanistan and Iraq fell apart following U.S. military actions. But the United States lacked the civilian skills to help those nations recover.

This forced the military to take on nation-building tasks for which it wasn't trained.

Meantime, Gen. David Petraeus' new emphasis on counterinsurgency doctrine stressed that such fights could not be won through military means alone, but also require political and economic components.


"What is not ... well-known," Gates said in a 2007 lecture at Kansas State University, "was the gutting of America's ability to engage, assist and communicate with other parts of the world - the 'soft power' which was so important during the Cold War."

For example, the United States has more members of military marching bands than Foreign Service officers. Gates also noted that the number of Foreign Service officers was frozen as the number of embassies grew after the Soviet Union breakup. Meantime, "the United States Agency for International Development saw deep staff cuts ... and the U.S. Information Agency was abolished."


The extent of the problem was described graphically in a report on the crisis in diplomatic readiness recently released by the American Academy of Diplomacy and the Stimson Center (available at The report details the shortage of Foreign Service officers, and particularly of those with training in critical languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Hindi and Urdu.

At a time when America's need to engage with the world has never been greater, funding for public diplomacy has been shrinking. USIA libraries and cultural centers, where young Arabs once could interact with Americans, have long been shuttered. While terrorists set up Web chat rooms, we have no capacity to interact with a global generation that uses the Internet.

"We are not staffed to keep up with old needs, let alone new needs," said Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. He calls for more staffing for public diplomacy, new Web outreach, reopened cultural centers, and more exchanges.


It won't be easy to rebuild - and fund - soft-power agencies at a time when Obama is beset by crises. We don't know whether Clinton has the needed management skills. Obama's team will have to work together closely to give him the soft-power tools he seeks.

You can read the entire piece here.

And from Politics and Soccer:

Everyone wants a larger State Dept

But what is even better news is that Clinton, Gen. Jones (the national security adviser), and Gates at the Pentagon all signed on to Obama's core idea of shifting resources away from the Pentagon and towards the State Dept. This is a great idea and people have been screaming about it for years. [...] While the Pentagon's budget is over $500 billion and including the wars and future medical costs may rise over $1 trillion (and some idiots want to pin it to 4% of GDP), the State Dept had a measly $10 billion for FY 2008.

Despite almost universal agreement that the State Department is under-resourced, Pentagon budgets have continued to outpace State budgets in growth because of lots of Congressional pork. Probably the largest pork item is the United States Air Force. OK, that was an exaggeration, but stuff like the F-22 which is projected to cost at least $62 billion is equal to the State Dept budget for six years, and this is for an aircraft with no actual mission other than to defeat imaginary Chinese planes. Unfortunately for the State Department, it's budget doesn't create jobs in Congressional districts because they invest in people rather than buying stuff, so Congress doesn't throw $5 billion (half the State Dept's budget) at the State Dept in unwanted pork projects like they do the Pentagon.


You can read P&S's entire piece here.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Dislocated Americans

Here is an article from today's NY Times about Americans, including Foreign Service spouses, living overseas. As I have mentioned before, life for spouses overseas can be difficult. For same-sex spouses, it is even harder.

The Dislocated Americans


More and more workers have relocated abroad in recent years, but despite the growing numbers, family issues remain a major factor in the failure of overseas postings.

The initial excitement of an exotic new posting can turn to culture shock, loneliness, identity loss and depression, and it is often the employee’s spouse and children — without the familiar routine of work — who are most affected.

“I thought it would be an adventure, and it was,” said Francesca Kelly, who moved 10 times in the first nine years as a Foreign Service spouse, living in places like Belgrade and the former Soviet Union during the cold war. But it “was much more difficult than I ever imagined it would be.”

Brenda H. Fender, director of global initiatives for Worldwide ERC, an association concerned with work force mobility, said “if the family cannot adapt, the employee will likely not succeed.”


Yvonne McNulty, a Singapore-based consultant who studies mobility issues, said the biggest issue for spouses was loss of identity. “What I found in my research is that almost all spouses face an identity crisis but only about 10 to 15 percent did something about it, by becoming authors, getting an M.B.A. or starting businesses,” she said. Most “felt they were victims, with no control.”

Even when a company offers generous support, which may include help finding housing, language training and even funds for personal development for the spouse, that is often not enough.

[Digger comments: And as I have mentioned before, the State Department does not offer much in the way of training and support for same-sex spouses. Same-sex partners are limited to a short course in language while heterosexual spouses can get a full course of language. In many cases, that full course of language later facilitates the spouse in joining the Foreign Service, because those who can pass a language test get a bump in the score on the oral part of the Foreign Service Officers Test. As for professional development funds, those are not available to same-sex spouses. In fact, same-sex spouses can not compete for jobs at post unless there are no qualified heterosexual spouses (even if the same-sex spouse is more qualified) and then must compete with all expats who apply. Heterosexual spouses get preference. And even when a same-sex partner is hired, they are often paid the local rate rather than the American rate, meaning they earn far less than the pittance given to the heterosexual spouses.]


Ms. Kelly, the Foreign Service spouse, who now lives in Bethesda, Md., and another spouse founded The Sun (The Spouses’ Underground Newsletter) as a way to create their own support community. Initially, it was an irreverent mix of poetry, opinions and the continuing tales of a fictional “highly flawed, complete disaster of a diplomatic wife,” she said.

Soon contributions took on a more serious cast; readers wanted information about where they were planning to live. By 2000, The Sun became Tales From a Small Planet, a nonprofit Web site where members can read reports on some 350 cities written by expatriates.

Patricia Linderman — living in Guayaquil, Ecuador — edits Tales and is co-author of “The Expert Expat: Your Guide to Successful Relocation Abroad” (Nicholas Brealey, 2007). She said there had been an explosion of resources in recent years that support expatriates and many now also “focus on the personal and emotional aspects of cross-cultural living,” she said.


You can read the entire article here.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Benefits for LGBT FS families

Open Season for FEHBP (Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan) closes on December 8. This afternoon, to help demonstrate to OPM that LGBT federal employees want and need health benefits for their families, HRC released the statement below. That statement includes a link to an Action Site for individuals to send letters asking OPM to support domestic partner benefits. Such benefits are particularly important for the partners of LGBT foreign service officers, who otherwise might have difficulty getting coverage in some of the countries where their partner might be serving.

Brad Luna Phone: 202/216.1514 Cell: 202/812.8140
Trevor Thomas Phone: 202/216.1547 Cell: 202/250.9758

Federal Employee Groups Urge Government for Partner Benefits

“Open season” time period raises the alarm in lack of benefits for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people

WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, in conjunction with federal employee groups, today urged the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to support domestic partner benefits for federal civilian employees. Each fall, 8 million federal employees, retirees, and their dependents, are offered the opportunity to review the various health program options in a time period referred to as “open season.” For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers, this time draws attention to the existing inequality that they face when it comes to employer-provided benefits.

“The federal government should be the standard bearer for fair workplace practices,“ said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “As long as it denies lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees the comprehensive family benefits that their heterosexual colleagues receive, the federal government will fall short of that standard, and continue to lag behind the nation’s top employers.”

This year, in addition to pouring over extensive information about 269 health-plan options, cost, and quality, LGBT civil servants are asking OPM to support covering their family members as well. The health benefits which the vast majority of workers obtain through their place of work, are not extended to domestic partners of federal civil servants. While their colleagues are worried about increasing co-pays and deductibles, LGBT employees struggle to come up with 100% of the cost of insuring their partners.

Expressing her support for the issue, Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus co-chair, Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) stated, “Only when we eliminate discriminatory practices in the workplace will we allow both employees and businesses to reach their full potential. As an employer, the federal government must not only set an example, but must compete with corporate America for the best-qualified workforce. Offering domestic partner benefits is a means toward both ends.”

“The most frequent concern we hear expressed by our members is the need for fairness in health benefits for their partners and families, and in having equal compensation with heterosexual employees,” said Len Hirsch, president of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Employees of the Federal Government, also known as Federal GLOBE, a group that has pressed for domestic partner benefits since its inception in 1992.

Through an online website, individuals have the opportunity to write to OPM and express their desire for equal benefits. While the incoming administration has expressed its support for the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, encouraging OPM to support LGBT families improves the prospects for achieving that goal. To write to the Office of Personnel Management, visit:

The benefits programs include the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHB), which is used by members of congress, as well as the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Program, and the Federal Flexible Spending Account Program. “We hope that Members of Congress will extend health benefits to all Federal employees’ families – including the families of Members’ own staff,” said Derek Dorn, co-chair of the Gay, Lesbian, Allied Senate Staff (GLASS) Caucus.

“Adopting fair policies in the treatment of domestic partner benefits will not only benefit current LGBT employees of Congress, it will enable the entire government to draw highly qualified LGBT Americans, who may otherwise elect to work elsewhere, to careers in public service, “ said Victor Castillo, co-founder of the Lesbian & Gay Congressional Staff Association (LGCSA).