As it enters a period of political transition, the United States faces enormous global challenges with constrained resources for addressing them. In terms of U.S. foreign policy and national security needs, there is no problem more pressing than the country’s “hollowed out” diplomacy. The American Foreign Service Association has pointed out the following resource shortages as part of its effort to persuade the new Administration and Congress to provide the funding needed to close the growing gap – more like a chasm – between the demands placed on the State Department and Foreign Service and the staffing and operating resources required to meet these demands effectively. – Ed.
The U.S. Diplomatic Resource Gap
- Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, staffing demands on the Foreign Service have soared: 300 positions in Iraq, 150 positions in Afghanistan, 40 positions in the State Department’s office to coordinate reconstruction efforts, 100+ training positions to increase the number of Arabic speakers, and 280 new positions in areas of emerging importance such as China and India.
- Despite those urgent staffing needs, Congress since 2003 has turned down all State Department requests for additional positions (totaling 709 positions), except those earmarked for consular affairs and diplomatic security.
- As a result, literally hundreds of Foreign Service positions are vacant. Some 12 percent of overseas Foreign Service positions (excluding Iraq and Afghanistan) are now vacant, as are 33 percent of domestic Foreign Service positions. Furthermore, 19 percent of the filled slots are held by employees “stretched” into a position designated for a more experienced person.
- The State Department calculates that the Foreign Service is short 1,015 positions for overseas and domestic assignments and is short 1,079 positions for training and temporary needs — this out of a total staffing of just 11,500.
- These shortfalls in staffing and operating expenses are reducing the effectiveness of U.S. diplomacy in building and sustaining a more democratic, secure and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and international community.
- The diplomatic staffing gaps stand in stark contrast to the situation at the Department of Defense, which is expanding the armed forces’ permanent rolls by 92,000 by 2011. The State Department’s deficits amount to a mere pittance when compared to the additional resources being dedicated to the Pentagon.
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates leads growing calls urging that the Administration and Congress act to strengthen the diplomatic element of national power. In his November 26, 2007 speech at Kansas State University, Gates said: “The Department of Defense has taken on many…burdens that might have been assumed by civilian agencies in the
past… [The military has] done an admirable job…but it is no replacement for the real thing – civilian involvement and expertise… There is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security – diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development… Indeed, having robust civilian capabilities available could make it less likely that military force will have to be used in the first place, as local problems might be dealt with before they become crises.”
- Despite all of that, it is most unfortunate the President’s Fiscal Year 2009 budget request to narrow the staffing gaps appears to be going nowhere given that Congress will defer budget decisions to the next Administration. The next president will undoubtedly want a strong diplomatic corps to work hand-in-hand with our nation’s strong military. Waiting two more years for diplomatic reinforcements is too long in view of the serious challenges facing America overseas.
- Few people realize that two thirds of the Foreign Service is deployed overseas at all times and that 70 percent of them are at hardship posts (meaning locations with difficult living conditions due to terrorist threats, violent crime, harsh climate, or other factors). Over half of the Foreign Service has served at a hardship post within the past five years. The number of posts that are too dangerous to permit employees to bring their families has quadrupled since 2001 – to 905 such positions today. Over 20 percent of Foreign Service members have served in an unaccompanied position within the past five years. By summer 2008, 15 percent have served in war zone Iraq.
- Yet, incredibly, Foreign Service members suffer from an ever-growing financial disincentive to serve abroad. The pay disparity caused by the exclusion of overseas Foreign Service members from receiving the “locality pay” salary adjustment given to other federal employees now causes U.S. diplomats to take a 20.89-percent cut in base pay when transferring abroad. In effect, Foreign Service members take a pay cut to serve at two-thirds of overseas posts. Losing the equivalent of one year’s salary for every five served abroad has serious long-term financial consequences. It also contributes to a growing feeling that the Foreign Service has become less “family-friendly” and has left the Foreign Service a career increasingly out of balance.