Next Secretary of State John Kerry’s Full Plate of Management Issues, and That’s Just For Starters

A few weeks ago, Gordon Adams, professor of international relations at the School of International Service at American University and Distinguished Fellow at the Stimson Center argued why senators shouldn’t head the Pentagon or Foggy Bottom. (see FP, Running Hills, December 20). His piece was published in December before Senator Kerry’s nomination was officially announced (Kerry was officially nominated December 21) and as Chuck Hagel went through the ignomious process of being made a piñata before actually being officially nominated for the SecDef position (his official nomation is expected to be announced on January 7).

Excerpt below:

The departing secretaries have done many good things, but neither has truly tackled the requirements of waning resources. DOD hates and fears a drawdown — it means choices have to be made and priorities set. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has started that process, somewhat reluctantly, in his relatively short tenure, but has not acknowledged the reality that real cuts are coming and that the budget will not hold at the growth with inflation level he currently projects. As for Hillary Clinton over in Foggy Bottom, she peered over the edge of State’s (and USAID’s) internal problems in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) but made few fundamental changes. There is little State or USAID planning for the decline in resources that is coming.

We are at an inflection point in both agencies, and the budgetary piper is calling the policy and management tune. The question is whether either Hagel or Kerry have internalized that reality and are prepared for the tough internal leadership both institutions will need over the next four years. There are hard decisions to be made about personnel, acquisitions, and future strategy — decisions that will require taking on baronies and fiefdoms while minding the management store.
[...]
The problem at State goes deeper. Management has never been Foggy Bottom’s strong suit, and its shrinking reputation for effectiveness bears witness to that reality. The only secretaries who truly focused on how the department worked were Larry Eagleburger and Colin Powell; the rest have hunkered down on the seventh floor and let the building grind on with minimal attention. Clinton has been there long enough to try to make a dent in the reform of State Department management. QDDR notwithstanding, it was not much of a dent; most of the challenges remain for the next incumbent.
[...]
State’s management issues are even more serious, because the building has given short shrift to management for decades.

First, the budget and planning system at State has only barely begun to be created. Foggy Bottom still cannot do long-term planning, meaning it still struggles with accurately forecasting the costs of its programs and projects. A budget office was created in 2005 and has struggled for seven years to gain control over a sprawling bureaucracy, devoid of budget and resource planners. Moreover, that budget office only has responsibility for programs, like Economic Support Funds, Foreign Military Financing, and counternarcotics operations, not for State’s management or for personnel budgets; those belong to the undersecretary for management. In other words, the undersecretary (and the director general of the Foreign Service) oversee things like building security, training, and promotions, while the planning for programs is handled over at the budget office. The two are not connected in any official way, so putting programs and people needs together is almost impossible. The new secretary badly needs to back up and strengthen this budget and planning capability. Senators like Kerry, who have not been appropriators or passed full budget bills will be challenged, but the budget and planning system will not get better without secretary-level support.

Second, U.S. foreign-policy institutions are a diaspora of organizations. State only owns a bit; its relationship with USAID is strained, even though USAID reports its budget through State (and Clinton’s QDDR strengthened USAID’s semi-autonomous capability — needed, but it poses a continuing coordination challenge). Treasury owns the international development banks programs; the Millennium Challenge Corporation splits the foreign aid portfolio; Peace Corps, EXIM Bank, OPIC, TDA — this alphabet soup of independent agencies further fragments the portfolio and weakens America’s civilian statecraft. Will a senator have the skills to work the kinks out of this system?

Third, in the 21st century, America’s civilian statecraft needs a makeover. This is a human resources issue. For centuries, the task of a diplomat has been to represent, report, negotiate, and advise. Today, all those things are needed — and U.S. diplomats are the best at this — but also much, much more. They have to run programs (foreign assistance, counternarcotics, anti-terrorism), support stronger governance through the embassies (nation-building), help prevent and resolve conflicts, carry out public diplomacy, manage budgets, and persuade Congress to keep the taps open. The Foreign Service is only at the edge of this revolution in competence; the department lacks a comprehensive training program, especially as a career progresses, and officers who serve in non-traditional billets (political-military affairs, development, public diplomacy, management) find they are still sidelined for promotion. This is nitty-gritty personnel stuff, but critical to the long-term sustainability of America’s diplomacy. It is not the normal grist for the senatorial mill.

These are only a few of the management challenges the next two secretaries will face. But as resources shrink in both departments, there will be a crying need for tough, smart, experienced leadership at the top. We can get a drawdown right, but we will need leaders who understand these needs, even more than we do leaders who understand policy issues. The task of running huge, complex bureaucracies like the State Department and the Pentagon is about much more than just showing up and making policy — now more than ever. If they want these positions, Kerry and Hagel are going to have to prove that they are ready manage, roll up their sleeves, put on their green eyeshades, and get to work inside their respective buildings.

Read in full here.

Click here to read on revamping the Foreign Service from 27-year FS veteran, Dr. Jon P. Dorschner.
Click here to read Political Officer Tyler Sparks’ piece on Overhauling the EER Process, FSJ Sept 2012, p.17
Click here to read 
Ambassador John Price on why The State Department Culture Needs to Change via Diplomatic Courier

Given the smoke signals coming from the Hill, it is almost certain that Senator Kerry will sail through his nomination painlessly.

So the challenge then becomes not only how to manage The Building, but also bringing in the right senior people into the Kerry bus to deal — with the secretary’s full support — the management challenges within the State Department.

For all the reasons that Mr. Adams described above and more, the new secretary of State will need an effective Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources (D/MR).  We presume that Senator Kerry will have some leeway on his picks for his deputies.  This position currently incumbered by Thomas Nides, and previously occupied by Jack Lew (rumored to be the next Treasury secretary) is the Chief Operating Officer of the Department. Somebody told me recently, “Jack Lew did a great job, but got sideswiped by Afghanistan.” With the drawdown in Afghanistan looming large, the next D/MR could get sideswiped again by the same culprit.

The COO is not only the principal adviser to the Secretary on overall supervision and direction of resource allocation and management activities he/she also has  responsibility for the overall direction, coordination and supervision of operational programs of the State Department, including foreign aid and civilian response programs.

As an aside — whatever happened to the Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources (F) which supposedly ensures the strategic and effective allocation, management, and use of foreign assistance resources?  Who knows?! It lost its teeth and for the last four years has been on D/MR’s orbit.  Meanwhile, USAID hangs on trying hard not to get swallowed by State.  How many agencies and offices are doing foreign aid again?

Another crucial office is the Under Secretary for Management (M).  The Under Secretary for Management leads the bureaus of Administration, Consular Affairs, Diplomatic Security, Director General of the Foreign Service/Human Resources, Information Resource Management, and Overseas Buildings Operations, the Foreign Service Institute, the Office of Medical Services, the Office of Management Policy, the Office of Rightsizing the U.S. Government’s Overseas Presence, and the White House Liaison.

The cogs in the the domestic and global wheels of the Foreign Service tightens or comes apart under this bureau. The incumbent Patrick Kennedy has been on this job since 2007. Remains to be seen if he will be asked to stay on or if he’ll ship out to an overseas assignment.  Retired FSO, Peter Van Buren, who is not/not a fan of Mr. Kennedy notes in his blog that the later’s last overseas posting with the exception of a Chief of Staff stint with the CPA in Baghdad 2003-2004, was in 1991 in Egypt.

For those who might argue that State does not have a management problem, all you need to do is look at its performance evaluation process. By one FSO’s account, an extremely conservative estimate on the number of hours spent on one Employee Evaluation Report (EER) is 15 hours. Multiply that with 12,000 members of the Foreign Service who are rated each year, and you get 180,000 hours; an equivalent of 22,500 workdays, 61 calendar years or 90 working years.

The FSO writes that “The entire process derails so much of our work, and results in such a poor product, that it would surely shame our institution if its excesses were truly known by the general public.”

If your staff spends the equivalent of ninety years of work just to complete their own performance reviews, then Houston, you got a real problem.

And that brings us to the one other office that we fell feel definitely needs to be filled asap in Obama 2.0, that of the Office of the Inspector General. This is, of course, not a Kerry call but President Obama’s call.  The State Department has not had an Inspector General since January 16, 2008. The last time we looked, the Project on Government Oversight’s Watchdog Tracker still ranks the State Department  #1 in number of days the position has been vacant — 1,817 days and counting.

domani spero sig

 

 

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1 Comment

Filed under 68, Foreign Service, FSOs, Leadership and Management, Nominations, Obama, Peter Van Buren, Realities of the FS, Reform, Secretary of State, State Department

One response to “Next Secretary of State John Kerry’s Full Plate of Management Issues, and That’s Just For Starters

  1. Dan Davenport

    Thanks! I’m going to read those articles. From here it looks like all the sprawling bureaucracies (state, hs, intelligence, defense) are going to get sideswiped by the economy. Maybe if we made Kerry provide his own plane it would keep him in the office a little more?

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