Posted: 4:28 am EST
Updated: 5:01 am EST
It looks like US Mission Iraq is in for another big round of staff reduction. Sources indicate that staff cuts could be as much as a third. People reportedly are being told to return home. Like when? Now? Like there’s no glide path here … just pack up and go home now?
Update: We just learned that assigned personnel were notified last week to find other jobs.
If folks time this really well, Secretary Pompeo can then go talk to Congress about cost savings by the time he is up there in May for the State Department Budget Request for FY2020.
So we want to take a look at staffing numbers. We have two publicly available staffing numbers to work with, both a bit outdated so our numbers are speculation at this time. One is from 2013 when Embassy Iraq told State/OIG that it planned to reduce staffing from 11,500 in January 2013 to 5,500 in January 2014. That’s over five years ago, and we don’t know if US Mission Iraq was successful with this reduction plan. Let’s say post was successful, and staffing was down to 5,500 in early 2014. A reduction by a third means moving out about 1,800 people out of Iraq, which presumably includes not just direct-hire employees but also contractors.
Our second staffing number is from a January 2016 solicitation posted on FedBiz for Medical Service Support Iraq II which indicates the following: “The BDSC Large Diplomatic Support Hospital not only provides primary care to personnel at BDSC, but also may serve as the secondary and trauma care center for the patient population within U.S. Mission Iraq (4300 – 5800 personnel).”
If we take the lower end of that bracket at 4300, a reduction by a third means moving out approximately 1400 people out of Iraq and and back to domestic assignments/regular postings for direct-hire employees. Staff reduction could also means less protective security requirements, reduction in number of contractors providing various support functions, as wells as a reduction in the number of hospitals, air flights, food operations and logistics, laundry services, warehouse operation, vehicle maintenance services, and a long host of other support services.
Another way we’re looking at this is to go back to a 2010 State/OIG report that estimated a minimum of 15 and possibly up to 60 security and life support staff to support one substantive direct-hire position. For instance, if there are some 350 direct-hire employees and you slash a third of that staff, the corresponding security and life support staff could also be reduced by a third, which means a reduction of about 1700 security and life support staff (using the minimum 1:15 support ratio).
We do not know at this time how many direct-hire personnel will actually be affected by these cuts, or how many assignments — onward assignments, linked assignments, or how many contractors — will be impacted. We will update if/when we know more. There’s also a nagging question in our noggin — after Iraq, where else?
Maybe time to do a trip down the blog’s memory lane. Back in 2010, we posted US Embassy Baghdad: The “civilianization” of the U.S. presence in Iraq and its peskiest details. At that time, State/OIG notes:
The number of security and life support personnel required to maintain this limited substantive staff is huge: 82 management, 2,008 security, 157 aviation, and 1,085 life support personnel. In other words, depending on the definition of support staff, it takes a minimum of 15 and possibly up to 60 security and life support staff to support one substantive direct-hire position. To put this into perspective, a quick calculation of similar support ratios at three major embassies (Beijing, Cairo, and New Delhi) shows an average of four substantive officers to every three support staff (4:3) in contrast to 1:15 to 1:60 in Iraq.
The following year, the US Embassy in Baghdad made news on its planned staffing expansion from 8,000 to 17,000 (see US Embassy Iraq: From a staff of 8,000 to 17,000?).
In 2011, we did US Mission Iraq: Not DOD’s Giganotosaurus Footprint, But a Super Embassaurus For Real. We had a deep sense of humor then. That same year, we saw the opening of a new post in Iraq (see Newest US Consulate General Opens in Basrah, Iraq)
In 2012, US Mission Iraq made news again as news on a reduction in staffing by as much as as half was splashed on the headlines (see US Embassy Iraq Staffing: To Slash or Not to Slash, That is the Question). There was also BLISS (US Mission Iraq: Get ready for BLISS… no, not perfect happiness — just Baghdad Life Support Services.
In 2013, we did a Twelve Things You Might Not Know About the Largest Embassy in the World. That same year, there were various embassy closures (see Intel Signs of Al Qaeda Plot in the Making: U.S. Embassy Closures — Sunday, August 4.
In 2013, the State Department told the State/OIG: “The Embassy is taking steps to reduce the mission’s headcount from over 11,500 in January 2013 to 5,500 by January 2014.
The year 2014 saw the partial temporary relocation of embassy staff to Basra, Erbil, and Amman, Jordan (U.S. Relocates More Baghdad/Erbil Staff to Basrah and Amman (Jordan), Updates Aug. 8 Travel Warning (2014); US Mission Iraq: Now on Partial “Temporary Relocation” To Basra, Erbil & Amman (Jordan)
In spring 2015, a bomb exploded outside the US Consulate in Erbil, an attack claimed by ISIS (see Bomb Explodes Outside US Consulate Erbil in Northern Iraq, ISIS Claims Attack (Updated).
In the fall of 2015, the State Department updated its regulations for danger pay. All posts in Iraq were designated danger pay post at the 35%, the highest bracket (see New Danger Pay Differential Posts: See Gainers, Plus Losers Include One Post on Evacuation Status)
A January 2016 FedBiz solicitation estimated U.S. Mission Iraq personnel as between 4300– 5800 people.
In 2016, we blogged about the new folks leading the various posts under US Mission Iraq (see @StateDept Summer Rotation Brings New Faces to the U.S. Mission in Iraq. That same year, the US Embassy in Baghdad issued a warning on possible collapse of Iraq’s Mosul Dam. See also Failure of Iraq’s #Mosul Dam Would Likely Cause “A Catastrophe of Biblical Proportions”. Whatever happened to that? See this.
In June 2017, we learned that the State Department under new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson planned to close down the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah (see U.S. Consulate General #Basrah, Iraq: Six-Year Old Diplomatic Outpost Faces Closure).
Also in June 2017, the State Department awarded a $422,470,379.00 contract for the construction of the New Consulate Compound in Erbil, Iraq (NCC Erbil). @StateDept Awards $422M Contract For New Consulate Compound in Erbil, Iraq.
In September 2018, fifteen months after we blogged about the planned closure of Consulate Basrah under Tillerson (at that time we were told the planned closure had no timeline), the State Department, under the new leadership of Mike Pompeo ordered the mandatory evacuation for US Consulate General Basrah in Southern Iraq. Secretary Pompeo blamed Iran, and cited “increasing and specific threats and incitements to attack our personnel and facilities in Iraq.”
On October 18, 2018, the Department of State ordered the temporary suspension of operations at the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah.
In November 2018, President Trump nominated career diplomat Matthew Tueller to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. The nomination has been resubmitted to the SFRC on January 16, 2019 where it remains pending as of this writing. It looks like the SRFC is not in any great hurry to hold a confirmation hearing.
That’s where we are. Still remains to be seen what kind of budget allocation we’re going to see in the FY2020 budget proposal for US Mission Iraq, or what cost savings they’re looking at when this reduction is officially unveiled. It would also be interesting to see if this is the start of the end of the Iraq tax on diplomatic personnel and facilities worldwide.