Quickie: Foreign Service’s ‘Greatest Challenge’

The Federal Diary covered the Lockheed Martin-AFSA Speaker Series launched on Wednesday with Ambassador Negroponte (see Fluency is Foreign Service’s ‘greatest challenge‘ (April 8): Excerpt below from Joe Davidson:

The “greatest challenge,” according to Negroponte, is the need for officers who can speak the languages of the world.

“There is no substitute,” said the multilingual Negroponte, “for recruiting, training, deploying, retaining and retraining,” officers in languages and geography so they “develop the contacts, the knowledge, the insight, the local and area expertise” needed to help develop America’s foreign policy.

But State isn’t meeting that challenge well enough, according to the Government Accountability Office. In September, it said the department needs a comprehensive plan to address “persistent foreign language shortfalls.”
The second challenge cited by Negroponte is the need for State to provide a mix of policies and incentives “in order to optimize the deployment of officers and their families for a substantial majority of their careers.”

Last year, President Obama took an important step in making international postings more attractive when he signed legislation that begins to close a pay gap for Foreign Service officers, who do not get locality pay as do other federal employees.

Without that law, Negroponte said, there was a “perverse incentive” for Foreign Service officers to serve in the United States. He advocated greater employment opportunities for spouses of officers abroad — “that effort has faltered at various times” — and a reduction in postings to which officers can’t take their families. At least, he said, State should “find ways of compensating for that problem.”

Read the whole thing here.