Call in the Civilians. Pray Tell, From Where?!

Ron Capps is a peacekeeping program manager at Refugees International. According to FP, he served in Afghanistan as a soldier and in Iraq as a Foreign Service officer. He writes about Washington’s treatment of “civilian support as an afterthought” in the post 9/11 world. As a result, he writes, “the State Department’s ranks have been depleted and overstretched to the core. And the civilian half of warfare has suffered.” Read Call in the Civilians (Foreign Policy | October 26, 2009).

Excerpt below:

Development and diplomacy, like defense, are clearly defined and specialized fields. No one would task a USAID agricultural economist with helping develop Afghanistan’s or Iraq’s internal defense strategy. But with the current deficit of Foreign Service officers (FSOs) at the State Department and USAID, the government routinely tasks U.S. special operations forces with implementing development and public diplomacy tasks. One exasperated officer asked me, “How am I, as a military professional, supposed to know what’s best for the development of this country? That’s USAID’s job.” But there is no USAID officer in the area, so she soldiers on.

Worldwide, the State Department and USAID need about 5,000 new FSOs to conduct core and public diplomacy, oversee foreign assistance, and manage stabilization missions. The State Department has been hiring about 700 new officers a year, a rate that barely beats attrition in the rapidly graying Foreign Service. USAID is 75 percent smaller than it was a generation ago, and despite bringing in 300 officers a year, it is still not meeting the global demand for development specialists.

A rapidly graying Foreign Service, for sure. It doesn’t help that the State Department kicks you out as soon as you turn 65 … Well, whatever. They must know what they’re doing.

He also writes that “Colin Powell, for example, increased the Foreign Service by about 1,000 people a year. But most of these newbies went to consular and diplomatic security positions, not core and public diplomacy jobs. Condoleezza Rice asked Congress for 1,100 more FSOs annually, but she got considerably fewer.”

Consular are not core jobs?

Excuse me — Madam le Consul, we need you here, right now!

Okay, I will only politely quibble with the examples —

Actually, former Secretary Powell’ Diplomatic Readiness Initiative that began in 2001 hired 1,158 people above attrition.

According to AFSA, former Secretary Rice made the following staffing requests below. Note that these are not at “1,100 more FSOs annually.” She did not get to that solid round number until her last year in office:

FY-06: 221 requested, zero funded (140 created out of reprogrammed funds)
FY-07: 102 requested, zero funded
FY-08: 262 requested, eight funded
FY-09: 1,095 requested, unknown number funded (I’ll have to look this up)

In one staffing debacle in the 90’s that you may or may not remember, there were hundreds of unfilled positions in the State Department. The agency’s response was to smartly eliminate all the vacant positions. Yep, even then there was smart power at work — so then no more staffing holes. End of news story.

The 1990’s were lean years for the Foreign Service. This report says that deep staffing cuts under Secretary Christopher and Secretary Albright forced drastic reductions in professional and language training. Sure, we had a deficit but it had been steadily declining in the early part of the decade. In 1998, for the first time in 29 years, we enjoyed a $69 billion surplus. In FY2000, the estimated surplus was at least $230 billion.

But it was not about the money. 1991 also saw the end of the Soviet Union. And the peace dividend reared its ugly head, had USAID for starters, then ate USIA as one of the main courses in 1999.

The Foreign Affairs Council Task Force Report in 2003 says that seven blue-ribbon panels between 1998 and January 2001 detailed the disastrous impacts of 1990s budget cuts that reduced funding for the administration of foreign affairs from $5.05 billion in 1994 to $3.98 billion in 1996 to $3.64 billion in 2000 (expressed in constant 1996 dollars). Ambassador Bill Harrop writes in American Diplomacy that the “neglect in the 1990s allowed our diplomatic system to erode nearly to dysfunctionality.”

You’d think it could not possibly get worse. And then it did. The decade of GWOT saw not just 9/11 seared forever into our collective memories but also two wars, one now going on its 7th year, the other on its 9th year. Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan which started in October 7, 2001 has now costs us $230,174,475,000.00. The Iraq invasion in March 20, 2003 and post-war reconstruction has now cost us $695,004,700,000.00. By the time I finished writing this, it’ll be much more –see here.

At the State Department, Colin Powell initiated a hiring surge in 2001. The Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (DRI) was reportedly the brainchild of then Foreign Service Director General Marc Grossman. It was a three-year push to hire 1,158 employees over and above those hired to fill gaps created by attrition. This report has the hiring breakdown:

FY 2002:

467 Foreign Service Officers hired (229 in FY2001)
680 Foreign Service Specialists hired (298 in FY2001)
633 Civil Service employees hired (473 in FY2001)

FY2003
399 DRI positions

FY2004
399 DRI positions

By 2004 of course, the Iraq mess was in full swing.

Fast forward to 2006 – on January 18 that year, Secretary Rice outlined her vision for diplomacy changes that she referred to as “transformational diplomacy” to meet the 21st Century world. This new kind of diplomacy was about democracy-promotion overseas. The CRS reported that changes were made under existing authorities, but no legislation or new authority was requested from Congress.

I wrote previously about transformational diplomacy and the devils in the details here. A big deal was made about the global repositioning of Foreign Service personnel then. But on the fiscal year when this new transformational initiative was announced, Secretary Rice requested just 102 positions. None were funded by Congress. Without new funding or staffing, I thought of TD/global repositioning as nothing more than, frankly, avoiding the manholes in the global chessboard.

2007 is still remembered by some as the year when a muddy “near-revolt” happened in Foggy Bottom and diplomats were publicly threatened with directed assignments to Iraq. Just about everyone enjoyed the target; this one was the only one I remembered who tried to understand the fuller picture.

In the waning days of Secretary Rice’s tenure at the State Department there was understandably a big do to separate facts from myths (it’s harder than you think). AFSA tried to help. In it’s AFSANet message it also says that “Congress, at AFSA’s urging and with this Administration’s support, did include some FY-08 and FY-09 “bridge” funding for additional positions in the Iraq/Afghanistan War supplemental that was passed last summer. To our knowledge, State has not said how many new Foreign Service positions that funding permitted.”

In the long life of a bureaucracy, a well resourced agency like the Defense Department has hundreds of proud parents and godparents who can claim responsibility for its successes; but who claims responsibility for an underfunded/understaffed agency that must constantly wrestle with — well, people and paperclips?

And when we call in the civilians …and they’re nowhere around, we start thinking, “how could that be?They must be here somewhere, surely, they must be … just hiding somewhere? ... After all, to admit that they’re not here and were never around in the first place, is to open a whole can of critters that can bite just about everyone up and down this sorry road.

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