Sunday, February 03, 2008

Bush Seeks Money for 1,076 New Diplomats

Bush Seeks Money for 1,076 New Diplomats


"WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush wants to hire nearly 1,100 new diplomats to address severe staffing shortages and put the State Department on track to meet an ambitious call to double its size over the next decade, The Associated Press has learned.

The additional positions are part of an $8.2 billion request for State Department operations for the 2009 budget year that Bush will submit to Congress on Monday, according to documents described by officials.

That request would be $690 million, or 9.1 percent, above the current level for department operations, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the public release of the spending plan for the budget year that begins Oct. 1.

Other significant proposed increases include a 41 percent rise in spending for new embassy construction, from $670 million to $948 million, and a nearly 20 percent boost for worldwide security spending, from $968 million to $1.16 billion.

The proposal also envisions creating a Civilian Stabilization Program that would work to improve conditions in post-conflict zones, at an initial cost of $248 million.

The spending request is subject to congressional approval.

The overall figures do not include foreign aid, part of a separate department budget request. Nor do they cover spending for most department operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, officials said.

Bush's proposal envisions adding 1,076 jobs at the State Department and diplomatic missions overseas in what officials believe would be one of the largest one-year boosts to the ranks of the foreign service.

The department is facing a critical shortage of diplomats and many embassies are operating at only 70 percent of their desired staffing levels. Last fall, the department said 10 percent of vacant positions would have to remain unfilled this year due to a lack of personnel.

The plan includes 450 jobs to free up current diplomats for intensive language and national security training, 350 posts for the Civilian Stabilization Program, 200 diplomatic security agents, and 50 political advisers for military commands.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has lobbied hard for the new hires, making several appearances before a White House budget appeals committee to fight efforts to trim the proposal, officials said.

The jobs are part of Rice's efforts to promote what she calls "transformational diplomacy" by reorganizing State Department and embassy staffing.

The additions mirror a recommendation made last week by an advisory committee she appointed in 2006 to study how to proceed with the project.

In a report submitted to Rice on Jan. 29, that committee urged the department to make "a sustained, aggressive effort" to double its staffing over the next 10 years. If carried out, the foreign service would grow by roughly 11,000, or 1,100 a year, to 22,000 by 2018.

It also called for immediately adding 1,030 jobs.

The department's last major hiring drive occurred between 2001 and 2004 when former Secretary of State Colin Powell launched the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative that boosted staffing by 1,158 positions over those three years."

Alhamdullilah! (Thank God, for those who haven't served in the Middle East) Let's just hope it passes.

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