WP - Bush Seeks Money for 1,076 New Diplomats
Bush Seeks Money for 1,076 New Diplomats
By MATTHEW LEE
The Associated Press Sunday, February 3, 2008; 2:01 PM
WASHINGTON -- 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.
This is pretty good news. It's one thing for SecDef Gates to suggest something, or even Sec. Rice to request something(s); a plan really starts to come together when the president actually asks Congress for the money, especially when a congressional leader from the other (and majority) party has publicly supported such a move. This is starting to move from the realm of ideas to that of real life.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.
This sounds better than it is, I think, because current budgets reflect a 10 percent cut in the State Department's budget.
I'm not complaining, but this should be viewed in perspective.
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.
Remember that new embassy construction spending increased drastically after 9/7. On the face of it, this looks like a further "ramping up" of the Worldwide Security Upgrade Program. OBO made phenomenal progress in order to make this happen, but will need to get an even firmer grasp of its bootstraps. Of critical importance will be the selection of Gen. Williams' successor. It will be interesting to see TSB's take on this.
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.
What does that mean? What I think it means is that instead of diplomats having to either take up their posts with inadequate language or other preparation (the lack of which State has been soundly criticized for in the past, and which the former DRI was intended to remedy) or leave the duty positions unfilled while they undergo such training, 450 new officers will (eventually) become available to ensure those staffing gaps are reduced without sending less-than-fully-qualified officers out to do the Republic's business.
It also begins a Civilian Stabilization Program at 350 officers, hires an additional 200 DS agents, and increases the number of FSOs assigned to military commands by some 50 officers.
I look forward to learning more about the Civilian Stabilization Program. That may simply mean that all those positions on PRTs in Afghanistan and Iraq don't simply come out of hide, but will now, at least for a time, be represented by a permanent piece of the manning chart.
CAA is second to none in his admiration for DS agents. Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan require a lot of them, and with increased oversight of contractor security operations (such as Blackwater), those numbers are needed. As CAA noted daily, there was a week-long hiring "window" this past week where the Bureau of Diplomatic Security was accepting new applications.
As for the pol/mil advisors, it used to be that only the largest military/naval commands had an FSO attached to their staff. Fifty new positions could, for example, put an FSO advisor down to the division level on a permanent basis.
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.
Sec. Rice took some criticism recently due to a perception among FSOs, reflected in a recent AFSA survey, that she hadn't sufficiently fought for the Department's requirements. This news could go a long way towards defusing such criticism.
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.
A clarification: increasing the Department of State by 11,000 will not double its size. It will double the size of the Foreign Service, which is the part of the State Department which serves overseas. Various support and permanent staff of the Department of State reside and work in the Washington D.C. area as Civil Service employees, for example, as well as at the various passport offices and production facilities around the country which fall under the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
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.
One notion that sometimes crops up when a hiring "surge" gets underway, that some the hiring standards will slip and lesser qualified personnel will somehow slide through the process, lowering the overall calibre of the diplomatic corps. To that I say bunk. The winnowing process that new hires undergo in order to be hired is so exacting that even doubling or tripling the annual hiring can't bring down the overall quality of the newly hired officers. By the time FSO candidates are hired, the Board of Examiners (BEX) is essentially splitting (and re-splitting repeatedly) hairs in order to differentiate between and rank-order these highly qualified applicants. One unanticipated (except by CAA) benefit of the time could be to take advantage recruiting from all those experienced company-grade officers (mostly captains, but also experienced Non-Commissioned Officers and other enlisted personnel) who are starting to vote with their feet and leave active and reserve components.
On the Net:
State Department: http://www.state.gov/
Hat tip to Digger at Life After Jerusalem.