AFSA President's Update
This report contains a mixture of good and bad news. That mixture is characteristic of the situation facing the Foreign Service today. While there are some positive trends, AFSA's polling and incoming e-mails show frustration by Foreign Service members on a range of management issues. For example, even as diplomats continue to “step up to the plate” to staff an unprecedented number of unaccompanied and other hardship posts, Congress in recent years has not provided the additional resources that we need to do our jobs. This has left Foreign Service morale in a precarious state.
THIS YEAR'S BLEAK BUDGET
First, the bad news. Even though the fiscal year began four months ago, Congress was so late in passing the budget that agencies are just now finalizing their spending plans. The FY08 State Department operating budget is bleak. The White House's original funding request for Diplomatic and Consular Programs failed to adequately cover such expenses as foreign currency exchange losses and government-wide annual salary increases. Then, Congress took that inadequate budget request and cut 200 million dollars from it. As a result, not only will State be unable to create any of the 254 new Foreign Service positions that it requested, but it will not be able to 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). This endangers U.S. national security in view of the ever-expanding demands being placed on U.S. diplomacy. Additional FY08 funding for State operations might be available via an Iraq supplemental appropriation, but that is far from certain.
A CALL TO ACTION
This week, a blue ribbon committee appointed by Secretary Rice
presented their report A Call to Action: The Advisory Committee on Transformational Diplomacy. Committee members include former Senator John Breaux, former Michigan Governor John Engler, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General (Ret.) Richard Myers, and Ambassador (Ret.) Thomas Pickering. The report calls for "urgent action...to modernize U.S. diplomacy." Towards that goal, it urges the immediate funding of 1030 new positions at State and 350 new positions at USAID. Over the longer term, it called for a doubling of "deployable staffing" (mostly Foreign Service) at State and USAID.
This report joins the growing list of independent assessments and outside commentary stressing the need to strengthen the civilian component of U.S. national power:
-- The June 2007 Managing Secretary Rice’s State Department report by the Foreign Affairs Council which documented a 1,100 position deficit at State.
-- The October 2007 Embassy of the Future report by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) which found a 1,015 position shortfall in current needs at State plus an additional 1,079 position deficit in training and related needs.
-- The November 2007 Smart Power report by CSIS which cited a “more than 1000” position deficit at State to meet training and related needs.
-- The November 26, 2007 speech by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates that called for a "dramatic increase" in funding for diplomacy and foreign assistance. Secretary Gates repeated and amplified that theme at a January 26, 2008
talk at CSIS.
NEXT YEAR'S BUDGET
Here is some very good news. The President's FY09 budget request to be presented to Congress on February 4 will call for substantial increases in State and USAID staffing. Published articles peg the State Department's requested increase at around 1,000 positions and the USAID increase at 350. AFSA understands that these numbers only made it into the President's budget after determined personal lobbying by Secretary Rice. Importantly, the budget will also request funding for Foreign Service compensation reform to close the overseas pay gap. Of course, getting those requests into the President's budget is only the first step. As two former Under Secretaries for Management told me in recent days, getting Congress to appropriate the funds will be impossible without determined personal lobbying by the Secretary and Deputy Secretary. Thus, I was delighted to hear that the Secretary is scheduled to testify on her budget request starting in mid-February.
Another positive sign is that President Bush took time in his January 28 State of the Union Address to salute Foreign Service members serving in Iraq. Furthermore, Foreign Service member Eric Whitaker -- a Provisional Reconstruction Team Leader who has since returned to Iraq -- was one of about 20 citizens invited to sit with First Lady Laura Bush during the address. AFSA cannot remember a previous case of the Foreign Service being so honored at the State of the Union. AFSA late last year suggested to State Management and directly to White House staff that those two actions take place. We also suggested that the President mention the need for more resources for diplomacy, but that did not make it into the speech. However, the official Democratic response to the State of the Union did include a call to expand Foreign Service staffing and increase funding for international development.
OVERSEAS PAY GAP
AFSA had a very encouraging meeting with Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) on January 16 in her Capitol Hill office. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen is the senior ranking Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a key player on the pay modernization question. In early January, we sent her a letter asking for her help in solving this long-standing problem. During our meeting, we made our case and she acknowledged that this was a growing problem impacting a constituency she cares about.
Separately, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte recently spoke with Rep. Ros-Lehtinen on this issue and sent her a detailed two-page letter stating the case for pay reform. In his letter, Ambassador Negroponte said unequivocally that “Foreign Service Compensation Reform is the Department's highest management priority.” He added, “The dramatic reduction of income that Foreign Service families experience when they are overseas has both immediate and lasting negative effects. For example, lower basic salary rates mean that Foreign Service members overseas receive less in employer contributions to the Thrift Savings Plan, which is linked to a percentage of basic pay.” In recent months, Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy and Director General Harry Thomas have also been active on the Hill explaining the need to end the pay gap. We also understand that Secretary Rice personally raised this issue with a key Senator in a meeting this week. We are encouraged by the personal commitments that we have received from senior State leadership that they will remain engaged.
AFSA will also continue to work on this issue with Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (D-CA), other key House decision-makers, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden (D-DE), Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), and other Senate Foreign Relations Committee members who we have cultivated to seek a bi-partisan solution. Toward that end, we are grateful to the nearly 50 AFSA members who answered our January 11 call for help in a letter writing campaign. We encourage this to continue as we turn up the volume and pursue a variety of creative angles to advance the cause. If you are interested in sending a letter, please contact AFSA’s Legislative Director, Ian Houston, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR ZONE TAX EXEMPTION
AFSA met on January 17 with Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. We hand delivered a letter signed by 110 of our members serving in Iraq urging Congress to act on HR 1974 which would lift the tax burden placed on civilians serving in combat zones. We also raised the pay modernization question with Chairman Rangel and he offered to try to be helpful. We were grateful for his time. The fact that we secured a meeting with Chairman Rangel at the height of discussion around economic stimulus packages which fall within his prevue, speaks both to AFSA’s growing stature and to his sensitivity to the concerns of the Foreign Service. He, of course, is the namesake of the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship Program which attracts outstanding young people who have an interest in pursuing a career in the Foreign Service.
On January 23, I joined Ambassador (Ret.) Thomas Pickering and Ambassador (Ret.) Marc Grossman testifying before the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The topic was "Fortress America Abroad: Effective Diplomacy and the Future of U.S. Embassies." My remarks focused on the human element of diplomacy. I stressed the need to fund diplomacy and development assistance to end chronic understaffing and chronic underinvestment in professional development. I also highlighted the need to end the overseas pay gap. My testimony can be found at http://www.afsa.org/congress/012308testimony.cfm and at http://nationalsecurity.oversight.house.gov/story.asp?ID=1690."