December 13, 2007

State Dept staffing cuts

After finally filling its required posts in Iraq an Afghanistan the State Department has been forced to make cuts in 10% of its staffing jobs elsewhere:

Diplomatic posts at the State Department and U.S. embassies worldwide will be cut by 10 percent next year because of heavy staffing demands in Iraq and Afghanistan, Director General Harry Thomas informed the foreign service yesterday.

The decision to eliminate the positions reflects the reality that State does not have enough people to fill them. Nearly one-quarter of all diplomatic posts are vacant after hundreds of foreign service officers were sent to embassies in Baghdad and Kabul, and Congress has not provided funding for new hires. Many of the unfilled jobs will no longer be listed as vacancies.

Citing "severe staffing shortfalls," Thomas asked each assistant secretary of state to prioritize jobs in his or her bureau and identify the least critical 10 percent by next Monday. "If we cannot realistically fill all of the positions currently vacant," he wrote in a cable sent throughout the department, "good management dictates that we . . . focus on the most essential."

So we've done directed assignments to the mammoth embassy in Baghdad and now we're short elsewhere. Charlie wonders how many of those folks sent post-haste to Iraq would be more useful in Indonesia, Senegal, China, Brazil, Ethiopia, or the UK? It's true that State would prefer the cuts to come from Foggy Bottom--but that still means you're literally decimating the individual country desks. Which is all well and good until Bangladesh goes to sh*t and no one is covering the account at Main State.

But here's what really caught Charlie's eye:

While the Baghdad and Kabul embassies are the immediate cause of the vacancies elsewhere, the State Department suffers from a deeper problem of flat hiring budgets. The size of the foreign service, about 6,500 diplomats, increased by approximately 300 positions a year between 2001 and 2004, but since then Congress has rejected requests for additional hiring for all but consular and security positions.

"We believe that . . . we had a justified need for those additional positions in those years," Patrick F. Kennedy, undersecretary of state for management, said in an interview. "On the other hand, Congress has to make choices, and they made them. I'm not going to say they are the wrong choices."

You're not gonna say it? Well hell, I'll say it. In fact, Secretary Kennedy, you know who did say it? The no sh*t Secretary of Defense, that's who.

“Making robust civilian capabilities available in the first place could make it less likely that military force will be needed, as local problems can be dealt with before they become a crisis,” Gates said in a Landon Lecture before about 1,600 at Kansas State University.

Now why is it the SecDef is a better advocate for diplomatic staffing and resourcing than the SecState? And can you imagine Air Force or Marine funding levels remaining static for 3 years and the Chiefs saying, well, I'm not going to say that was the wrong choice?!? They'd be running around with their hair on fire. Which is one reason why the Army and Marines are getting a huge plus-up and the Foreign Service is stuck 10% cuts. (The Air Force is actually facing massive reductions in personnel, but that's essentially a deal with the devil to get airframes instead of people.)

State has always had problems with resourcing. There's no domestic constituency for foreign aid and diplomacy, no iron triangle jobs program like with weapons procurement. But that doesn't mean you just take it lying down. Come on State, sack up, get some magic spray, and get back in the game. This is no way to run a war; and certainly no way to prevent one.