One of my blog pals scolded me on a serious error in my recent blog post (see Angry Lawmakers Care About the Foreign Service. Seriously. When It’s Convenient!). The lawmakers are political opportunists with more stripes than a zebra but since she has an excellent point, I’ll let you listen to the scolding:
A (I imagine her wagging her finger at me):
State doesn’t want attention from Congress. The result is a Congress that does not understand State’s mission.
Me: (small voice) Uh-huh, isn’t there a State Dept liaison office in Congress?
It takes two to tango and in this case, State rarely goes to the ballroom. When State does get near the dance floor, it often steps on its own feet.
Me: Wearing the wrong shoes?
A (ignores me totally):
When State does go to the Hill, compare the general quality of their testimony with that of their military counterparts. We know the quality of communication matters, even if both sides continue to disagree. (Call it public diplomacy with the Hill if you want.)
On the quality of the testimony, the Libya hearings provides an immediate example. Two State people + two military. Both military were clear in content, substance, and delivery. On the State side, only Kennedy excelled in all areas with Lamb coming up short across the board.
Me: (mumble) But those military guys get lots of practice briefing their generals (mumble).
How do you think the military developed a constituency? Most ascribe that to the military-industrial complex, and while that is a large factor, it creates opportunities not the relationship itself. The military actively courts the Congress. Since the 40′s (or late 30′s), it has played one master against the other. It has realized that it helps to keep the Hill informed. How do you get money and authorities from a group of lawmakers that have no idea what you do? Defense is constantly reminded of this. When budget cuts are threatened, the Pentagon quickly engages members and staff. The Pentagon and the Hill are no strangers to each other. State and the Hill, on the other hand, is something else.
Me: When you put it like that, it seems like State and the Hill are a series of one night stands. Maybe Alec should have stayed home and helped develop a culture of developing constituency in Congress right there in Foggy Bottom?
That the Hill doesn’t know or care about State is largely State’s problem. Legislative Affairs (H) is more interested with preventing information from moving between the two bodies than increasing understanding and partnership. Who in Foggy Bottom can you identify has good relationships, either professional or personal, with Hill staff or members (yes, plural)?
Me: Who? Well. Um … they don’t sign out with me when they’re doing their engaging over there. But … oh, wait, there’s an entire bureau working on that. State says that “H facilitates effective communication between State Department officials and the Members of Congress and their staffs.” In fact since 2001, it has a Capitol Hill House Liaison Office in the Rayburn House Office Building and the Senate Liaison Office since 2010 in the Senate Russell Office Building. Here is what it says:
Both offices provide a full range of State Department support services to members of Congress and their staff. In particular, it provides services related to consular affairs and travel by members of Congress. In fact, there are two full time Foreign Service Officer who are Consular Affairs specialist and available to assist with questions related to visas and passports.
Oops! Damn! Primarily just for CODELs?…. isn’t that like the Pentagon having an office in Congress just for miljets?
A – how come I just know that you’re going to ruin my happy, bubbly day?
In terms of the Hill committees, there is the problem of HFAC and SFRC not being known as effective committees. That does not mean State should ignore them or ignore the Hill. In most cases, the real power, with regard to foreign operations then, is with the appropriators. But getting legislation to the appropriators requires going through the authorizers. Beyond these committees, it would generally behoove State to actively engage the rest of the Congress because you never know when one might change committees or make a public statement. After all, State truly does have constituents all over the country across all sectors of American life, not just the military-industrial complex like the Pentagon: exchange students, support for businesses operating overseas, tourism, relationships with NGOs based in the US that operate overseas, national security, and more.
Me: See? There. I know she’s going to get me one of these days.
Oh, hey, would it help if FSOs blog about their lives overseas beyond the perfect PD moments and not get eaten by State Department tigers?
Or maybe some senior FSOs reassigned to Foggy Bottom can adopt a congressman or a senator?
State can start with Larry Schwartz, the Public Affairs officer from the US Embassy Cairo who ignited a political firestorm for his condemnation (cleared with the embassy’s acting ambassador) of a YouTube video that mocked the Prophet Muhammad. Heard that he had just been “relocated” to WashDC, perfect timing. I should mention that Mr. Schwartz’s boss who reportedly cleared that statement had prior experience with the House International Relations Committee and would have been an ideal candidate to adopt Congressman Jordan or Gawdy, too. Except that he remains stuck in Cairo.
A? A? Where are you? She’s a dear pal, but she can only take so much of me sometimes especially when I’m being scolded ….and I get all