Jack Lew on Civilian Staffing in Afghanistan

Yesterday, Jack Lew, the Department’s Under Secretary for Management and Resources gave a briefing on progress made in civilian hiring for Afghanistan. He said that the Department is on-track to meet staffing goals in Afghanistan. In the Q&A that followed, Secretary Lew gave the staffing goal at this point:

The 974 is the goal. What I’ve been trying to express is that as the plan is implemented and as there are needs for additional experts, we are not saying 974 is the end of it and if you need 10 more agricultural experts, it’s over. We’re open, as the deployment takes effect and is fully implemented on the margins, to be flexible.

[…] civilians come in ones. They don’t come in battalions. So it’s a different concept to assign civilians. We’re really matching people to tasks. So as the Embassy identifies additional tasks, we are open. It’s not an unlimited openness. I mean, obviously, we’re limited by appropriations and available resources.

Of course, how can anyone talk about war zone staffing without bringing up the “near-revolt” in Foggy Bottom in 2007? “Secretary Rice was trying to compel Foreign Service officers to go to these places, and now you’re saying you’re having no trouble at all.”

DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: I don’t want to say it’s easy. This is very hard. I mean, they’re hard assignments. These are hard decisions for people to make to go over, and it’s hard work when they get there. So it’s challenging, and I think we have to be kind of conscious of the fact that it gets harder as you do it year after year, because people who are inclined to take assignments like this have already done it once or twice. So it’s a challenging undertaking.

I think that what I attribute the relative enthusiasm of the Foreign Service in the State Department to sign on for this mission really gets down to its core strategic importance and the leadership both from the Secretary, the Ambassador, Ambassador Holbrooke – the team that’s on it. Look, even the fact that I am managing the recruitment of the 974 people, I mean, I’m told that that wasn’t the way Iraq was handled. It wasn’t at a level – the Deputy Secretary level. There’s a lot of visibility to this, and there’s a lot of sense of calling, that it’s a mission that people, if they’re able to contribute, feel they should try to.

I think that it’s not for everyone. Some people sign up, and by the time they get through training don’t decide it’s for them. Some people go out and come back. But that’s really very few compared to the total. And there’s nothing – there’s no compulsion in this. I mean, we still have the tools that were contemplated then should we ever need them, but —

Meaning forced to serve?

Yeah. The tools exist and everyone who is in the Foreign Service knows that that’s an option that’s available. But I’m very proud of our Foreign Service that it hasn’t been necessary to talk about that. Having been there several times now, I have a great deal of admiration and respect for people who are leaving their families behind, going to places where they’re in harm’s way, and doing work that isn’t always glorious and grand, but it’s important and they have to do it day after day.

An alternate video source is here at c-span. The transcript of his briefing is available here.