Foreign Service needs support

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There are, however, two threshold questions that precede the issue of the safety and security of our diplomatic personnel, and that more directly bear on the Foreign Service’s ability to carry out its diplomatic missions. First, do we have enough Foreign Service Officers in Benghazi, Libya, and at our other 245 posts overseas to achieve our national security objectives? Second, are these personnel properly trained? Are those in language designated positions actually fluent in the languages concerned? Have they all had the necessary professional and leadership training to be effective? We say that these issues come before the security question because if our personnel are not sufficient and sufficiently qualified to meet the nation’s policy goals then simply keeping them safe serves little national purpose.

The need for sufficient, qualified personnel has been consistently recognized by our military and Defense Department colleagues. Former Secretary Gates was an early voice, stating that “Our diplomatic leaders must have the resources and political support needed to fully exercise their statutory responsibilities in leading American foreign policy,” (2008) His call has been echoed by numerous senior generals recognizing, as Central Command’s General Mattis said, that “Robust resourcing for the State Department’s mission is one of the best investments for reducing the need for military forces to be employed. What do these statements really mean?

The American Academy of Diplomacy, supported by the Stimson Center and funded by the Una Chapman Cox Foundation, has since 2007 analyzed the relationship between foreign policy/national security objectives and the human and financial resources sought by the executive and provided by the Congress to achieve them. We are now in a transition from an emphasis on the use of military power to the use of smart power led by diplomacy and development. Our most recent report, Diplomacy in a Time of Scarcity, makes it very clear that the diplomacy and development functions still suffer from shortages of personnel and adequacy of training. 10 percent of overseas positions are unfilled and 30 percent of language designated positions are not filled with officers with the necessary skills. The report details how overcome these shortages to meet the unprecedented challenges we now confront.

The report makes very specific and documented recommendations: the addition of 722 Foreign Service positions in core diplomatic and public diplomacy functions to meet existing requirements, and 490 training complement positions to facilitate language training to meet Congressional mandates and to provide for necessary professional development. These are modest numbers and the cost will hardly move the needle in the overall International Affairs Budget (Account 150). The report also recommends streamlined and rationalized hiring authorities for USAID, analysis of the civilian surges in Iraq and Afghanistan so that the lessons learned can improve future performance, and the temporary use of retired officers to manage critical shortages of mid-level personnel recent hires progress through the system.

The Academy understands and the report underlines that the Department of State and USAID should bear a fair share of pending budget cuts. Given that the costs of the recommended increases in diplomatic and development personnel would only raise slightly the current figure of $4 billion, the necessary reduced funding in the overall 150 account could be accomplished with minor program trimming in the total foreign affairs budget of $55 billion. The returns would enormously enhance the capability of the foreign affairs agencies to deal with the national security, political and economic challenges of this newly globalized and increasingly dangerous world. Insuring that State can fulfill this critical and complex mission deserves the full support of the President, Congress and the American people.

Boyatt is a former ambassador to Columbia, Neumann, formerly ambassador to Afghanistan is president of the American Academy of Diplomacy and Valdez is president emeritus of the Council of American Ambassadors.

 

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