A Look Back at @StateDept Staffing Efforts: Powell’s Diplomatic Readiness Initiative, Clinton’s Diplomacy 3.0

Posted 12:15 pm PT

 

Apparently, Secretary Tillerson sent a letter to Senator Corker with a chart showing that there are 2K more FSOs today than in 2008. Well, not because of anything special he did after he came into office in February 2017 but due to concerted efforts that started in 2001 and slowed down in 2012.

Lets’ rewind to 1993, two years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and see what happened at the State Department. Read The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA.

In 2001, Secretary Colin Powell arrived in Foggy Bottom and made staffing the agency a priority.  He secured funding for his Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (DRI) which added 1,000 new positions to improve the Department’s diplomatic capacity and restore workforce capabilities. According to the State Department, “the DRI blueprint addressed new foreign policy initiatives, emerging priorities, and staffing deficits caused by the downsizing requirements of the mid-1990’s.”

On March 20, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq.

The State Department notes that “Staffing demands of Department operations in Iraq and Afghanistan diverted human resources and created vacancies at many other posts around the world. The growth of language- designated positions (LDPs) from roughly 3,000 in 2003 to over 4,270 in 2015 increased the Department’s training needs and diverted even more human resources.” 

So despite the DRI gains from 2002 to 2004, those positions were reportedly eroded through 2008.

Secretary Hillary Clinton came into office in January 2009. Early in her tenure, she promoted Diplomacy 3.0:

“Diplomacy 3.0” represents the three essential pillars of U.S. foreign policy: diplomacy, development, and defense. With Diplomacy 3.0, we are building diplomatic readiness, ensuring that diplomacy is again ready and able to address our nation’s growing and increasingly complex foreign policy challenges. To meet our expanding mission, we need Foreign Service personnel prepared to engage on a growing list of complex global issues from stabilization and reconstruction, to terrorism and international crime, to nuclear nonproliferation and the environment. Our diplomats also must be prepared to engage foreign audiences directly in their own languages, languages that may well require two or more years of study. To meet these needs, Secretary Clinton envisions a multi-year hiring plan that increases the Department’s Foreign Service by 25 percent. Meeting an expanding mission and properly staffing overseas posts, many of which are either difficult or dangerous, requires more personnel trained in the various skills demanded of the 21st Century’s smart diplomacy.

The State Department notes that it made significant gains during Diplomacy 3.0 through FY 2012 in addressing known challenges, such as staffing gaps and improving the language proficiency of the Foreign Service corps.  During the first two years of D3.0 hiring (2009 and 2010), the Department made significant progress in enhancing its language capabilities, filling key overseas vacancies, and providing resources for critical new strategic priorities through unprecedented levels of hiring. It further notes the following:

Diplomacy 3.0 (D3.0) increased the Department’s Foreign Service position base by 23 percent and the Civil Service (CS) by ten percent through FY 2013. However, much of this growth was attributable to increases in fee-funded Consular and Security positions. Without these positions, net FS position growth was roughly 13 percent.

D3.0 achieved about half its goal of a 25% leap (fee-funded positions excepted) but FY2011 marked a dramatic shift in the immediate funding environment. Then came the sequestration funding cuts enacted during FY 2013 and with that, the Department’s budget decreased and along with it, the robust hiring from the initial D3.0 years suffered. In 2012, we blogged that D3.0 was expected to conclude in FY2023 (see Foreign Service Staffing Gaps, and Oh, Diplomacy 3.0 Hiring Initiative to Conclude in FY2023).

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Inbox: Feast-or-Famine Games Being Played With State Staffing Levels

Posted: 1:33 am ET
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From our inbox this week:

I agree with AFSA that the house is on fire, but the question is what to do about it?  To use the fire analogy, you have to remove the fuel, the oxygen, or the heat to put out a fire.  So, what should be done to extinguish the current situation?  I certainly appreciate Ambassador Stephenson’s pointing out that there is indeed a fire, and I hope she will promote some constructive ways it can be put out.

From my perspective as an 02 generalist who has been in the Department for 10 years, staffing has never been constant.  I came in after Secretary Powell’s Diplomatic Readiness Initiative, which was needed because of the hiring freeze under Secretary Albright.  Colleagues hired under the DRI saw accelerated promotions to fill the ranks out where too many vacancies existed.  After I joined State, Secretary Clinton started the Diplomacy 3.0 accelerated hiring, which resulted in the much-discussed Pig in the Python.  Now, we are seeing a strategy to reduce jobs at the top, limit hiring of new employees, and encourage early retirement through a $25k incentive.  This is no way to run any kind of organization, public or private!  The feast-or-famine games being played with State staffing levels over the years distort careers and upturn lives.  Because of the DRI, employees with too little experience were placed in positions they were ill prepared for.  Because of the current situation, I know of some good, experienced officers who opened their windows to join the Senior Foreign Service (before Trump’s election), who are now facing an early exit from State with the reduced promotion numbers.  How in the world can people plan their careers?   How can State train and develop the next set of leaders?  How can we recruit the best and brightest to public service that is not related to the military or homeland security?  Again, this is no way to run a professional organization.

Although I certainly agree that reforms at State are needed, I strongly disagree with the approach that the supposed employee-led redesign has been enacted.  Reducing staffing levels to meet some arbitrary goal only serves to weaken the organization and create unintentional distortions.  (Side note: And the EFM hiring freeze, I mean EFM managed hiring process, is literally tearing apart families.)  Perhaps the solution is to have more Congressional oversight, at least as far as staffing levels are concerned.  I know of no one who welcomes more Congressional oversight, but I am frustrated with the yo-yo like nature that staffing at State has been treated.

The State Department will get through this latest challenge, I have no doubt.  The question is just how long it will take to recover, and how many good people will be sacrificed along the way.

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Tillerson’s Staff Reduction Plan Threatens Gains in Bridging @StateDept Language Gaps

Posted: 4:03 am ET
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The ability to speak and read foreign languages is a key Foreign Service competency. All FS Officers (Generalists) and some FS Specialists are required to reach general professional (3/3) proficiency in at least one foreign language during their careers. In 2016, the State Department said that its  success in staffing positions with officers with the required language proficiency was due, in great part, to the increased resources received in the Diplomacy 3.0 initiative.

Last year, the agency developed a plan to continue to bridge its language gaps — to “continue to expand the training complement, as resources are made available to enhance foreign language skills.” The Department said that it’s language requirements “are much greater today than before 9/11″ but it also noted that the budget environment threatens to reduce the significant progress the Department has made. Even before Rex Tillerson happened to the State Department, the agency already warned last year that “without funds to hire staff above attrition, the Department is not likely to make significant progress in increasing the number of LDPs [language designated positions] filled with fully qualified officers.”

A good number of our readers already know about language training in the State Department, but we also have readers who are not familiar with it, so this part is an explainer. The State Department’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI) grouped languages into four broad categories based on their difficulty to learn:

Category I Languages include the most English-like or the easiest languages for native speakers of English to learn. Included in this category are the Romance languages, such as Spanish and Portuguese, as well as other Western European languages, such as Swedish and Dutch. On average, these languages require 24 to 30 weeks of full-time study to achieve the 3/3 proficiency level.

Category II Languages generally take 36 weeks of full-time study to achieve the 3/3 proficiency level. Included in this category are Indonesian, Swahili, and German, among others.

Category III Languages generally require 44 weeks of full-time study to achieve a 3/3. These languages are substantially harder to learn because they are less like English. Among the Category III languages are Hindi, Dari, Persian, Russian, and Urdu.

Category IV Languages are the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn. This category includes Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, which require training for roughly 88 weeks, including a ten-month language immersion in country, to obtain the general professional (3/3) proficiency level.

The general professional (3/3) proficiency level means being able to use the language with sufficient ability participate in most formal and informal discussion on practical, social, and professional topics. It means being able to conceptualize and hypothesize. An 0/0 in speaking/reading indicates only a cursory level knowledge of the language while a 5/5 proficiency means highly articulate, well-educated, native-speaker proficiency. If you want to send a diplomat to a radio station to better explain U.S. foreign policy to host country nationals, you don’t send somebody with “basic” language skills. If you send a DSS agent to a high threat post without appropriate language training, it can limit not just his/her communication with the local guard force but also situational awareness and his/her ability to protect the mission.

The State Department defines priority languages as languages that are of critical importance to U.S. foreign policy, languages that are experiencing severe shortages or staffing gaps, or present specific challenges in recruiting and training.  So for example, Mandarin Chinese, Dari, Farsi, Pashto, Hindi, Urdu, Korean, and Arabic—all are languages spoken in China, Iran, India, Korea, and throughout the Near East—and are considered priority languages.

It took the State Department 12 years to get from 303 to 475 Chinese Mandarin speakers. Persian-Iranian speakers increased from 14 in FY2003 to 44 in FY2015, an increase of 214.3%. Persian-Afghan speakers went from 12 in 2003 to 85 in 2015, a 608% increase. Hindi speakers went from 12 to 75 or a 525% increase. The State Department’s Arabic speakers increased 47% between 2003-2015, from 232 to 341. Let’s not forget Korean speakers, where State had 76 3/3 speakers in 2003 and 102 in 2015.

In 2013, State/OIG estimated training students to the 3/3 level in easier world languages such as Spanish can cost $105,000 while training students in hard languages such as Russian can cost $180,000. Training in super hard languages such as Chinese and Arabic can cost up to $480,000 per student.  Students learning super hard languages to the 3/3 level generally spend one year domestically at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and then a second year at an overseas training facility.  The OIG’s estimates were reportedly developed based on the FSI weekly tuition rate, the standard number of weeks for 3/3 raining, the salary of a midlevel FSO, benefits based on Congressional Budget Office  figures, and per diem based on 14FAM 575.3 and Federal Travel Regulations. Cost estimates for super-hard languages were developed using the above methodology for the  domestic portion of training and data provided byEmbassy Beijing and NEA and data in State’s standard overseas support cost model for the overseas  portion of language training.

Is we use the OIG cost estimate of $480K to train a student in super hard language, it means U.S. taxpayers already spent $48M to train 102 diplomats to speak Korean.  We don’t know who are planning to take the buyouts, but let’s say for the sake of argument that all 102 Korean speakers take Tillerson’s buyouts. That’s $48M down the drain. How about the $163M taxpayers already spent on 341 Arabic speakers? Or the $228M spent to train 475 Chinese Mandarin speakers? Or $84M already expended the last twelve years to train 175 Japanese speakers?

What happens when they leave? Does the State Department then hire contractors on an “as needed” basis to track and report the goings on in the Korean peninsula and everywhere else where the U.S is planning to shrink its presence?

It is important to underscore that these gains in the Foreign Service’s language capacity did not happen overnight. And when people leave, as projected in Mr. Tillerson’s reported plan, replenishing their ranks, skills and experience will not happen overnight. Congress can appropriate new funds in the future, of course, but there is no currency that can buy the U.S. time.

  Related post:

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US Army Activates “Warrior Diplomats” … Unlike State’s Expeditionary Diplomats, These Got Guns

I almost forgot this item I saw from the US Army a few weeks ago.  After the “build phase” is completed, we can expect at least five battalions of “warrior diplomats.”  Since a battalion has around 300–1,200 soldiers, the new warrior diplomats brigade can have a as low as 1,500 soldiers or as high as 6,000 for a brigade consisting of five battalions.

FORT HOOD, Texas, Sept. 22, 2011 — A brand new unit now has a home at Fort Hood. The 85th Civil Affairs Brigade officially stood up at the “Great Place” Sept. 16, after years of planning and coordination.
[…]
“In 2007, the Army saw a need for additional civil affairs capabilities,” Ruth explained. At that time, only one active-duty brigade-sized civil affairs unit existed — the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne) which is aligned under U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C.

After the surge in Iraq was announced in 2007, Ruth said nearly half of the USASOC civil affairs Soldiers were deployed to the Middle East to support ongoing operations. Plans were made to build another brigade, although that process took some time.

“We are in the build phase now,” Ruth said. “By the time we finish building the brigade, we will have five battalions. Each battalion will be oriented on a geographic combatant command.”

The 85th Civil Affairs Bde. is a direct-reporting unit to U.S. Army Forces Command. In addition, the brigade’s first battalion, the 81st Civil Affairs Battalion, stood up Sept. 16 at Fort Hood. That battalion is oriented to Southern Command.

In September 2012, two additional battalions will stand up. They include the 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion at Fort Bragg, N.C., which will be oriented to Central Command, and the 82nd Civil Affairs Battalion at Fort Stewart, Ga., which will be oriented to Africa Command.

The two final battalions will activate in September 2013 and will include the 80th Civil Affairs Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., which will be oriented to Pacific Command, and the 84th Civil Affairs Battalion at Fort Bliss, which will support European Command.

There’s a simple reason for the roll out of the brigades, according to Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Berry, the brigade’s senior enlisted advisor.

“Part of the challenge of what we have (is) the MOS (military occupational specialty) and the branch have only existed since 2007,” he said. “So as we’re building capacity in the branch, we’re expanding the units at the same time.”

Soldiers that are interested in the civil affairs branch have a challenging road ahead of them before they can join a battalion or a brigade.

“We recruit from inside the Army,” Berry said. “The process is quite lengthy.”

Interested Soldiers must first meet the qualifications and go through a screening process. If they make it through that level but are not yet parachutists, they must complete Airborne school. After that, there is the official civil affairs MOS qualification course, and finally, the Soldiers must learn a foreign language, which means months of additional schooling.
[…]
“It’s very busy, but it’s also very rewarding to do something that not very many people have an opportunity to do in the Army, and that’s stand something up from nothing.”

Standing up a brigade requires identifying unit facilities, creating procedures and policies, and working closely with Human Resources Command to make sure positions are properly staffed, in addition to dozens of other tasks on a daily basis.

“I don’t think we could do this at any other place except Fort Hood, and that goes back to the superb level of support we’re getting,” Ruth said.

The Civil Affairs brigade at Fort Hood equips FORSCOM with a crucial tool, a team of “warrior diplomats,” eager to leave their mark on the world.

“The mission is to provide FORSCOM with a civil affairs capability,” Ruth said. “It can do three things, (including) support the Army Force Generation cycle with civil affairs operators. The second capability that we provide FORSCOM is the ability to provide peacetime engagement throughout the world, and then the last thing we provide is the ability to support any emergent operations.

“So if we have another Haiti (earthquake) or flood in Indonesia, now we have civil affairs Soldiers who can go out and lend their expertise in mitigating those disasters,” he added.

Civil affairs Soldiers play a crucial role in both war and peace, although Ruth admitted that the branch is sometimes misunderstood.

“There’s a misnomer out there that what we do is hand out MREs (meals, ready-to-eat) and dig wells,” he said. “That’s not exactly what we do. We can facilitate that, but we do things for specific reasons, and that’s really to legitimize the local, regional or national government, and facilitate the commander’s ability to operate in theater.”

At the tactical level, civil affairs Soldiers serve as an intermediary between a commander on the ground and local village representatives. That’s where the in-depth training and language skills make all the difference in the world.

“Because of all that training and the way we select those Soldiers, we’re going to be able to provide the Army with a mature Soldier, a Soldier that has the ability to think on his or her feet,” Berry said.

“You can put them in a situation and they may not know the answer when they get there, but they’re going to keep working at it until they figure out what the answer is. They also have the ability to work with people and understand people.”

“Our motto is ‘warrior diplomat’ because we have to be warriors. We have to be Soldiers,” Ruth said. “But the Soldiers also have to add the diplomatic capability to where they can diffuse dissension, identify what the local vulnerabilities are and really bring people together.”
[…]
To mark the brigade’s activation, the unit will host a ceremony at the flagpole in front of III Corps Headquarters Sept. 30 at 9 a.m. The public is invited to attend.

The full article is here.

By September 2013, the full brigade with an upper count of possibly 6,000 soldiers will be in place. One battalion of warrior diplomats will support each combatant command: Central, Southern, Pacific, European and Africom.

To put this in perspective: the diplomatic service, officially called the United States Foreign Service and tasked with carrying out the foreign policy of these United States in over 270 posts overseas has about 13,000 staff members.  Only about 6,500 are Foreign Service officers.  Indeed, they could easily fit aboard a single aircraft carrier.

In the FY2012 budget State requested an addition of 197 full time Foreign Service and Civil Service – a growth of 1 percent, and 165 new positions for USAID. I can’t tell how many additional staffing was granted. But the FY2012 budget request for the State Department was $62.7 billion, and only $53.4 billion was enacted.

For FY2013, State has again requested additional staffing, this time, for 121 new positions (83 Foreign Service and 38 civil service) in high priority programs and regions.

And that’s that for the chopping block, until the next round.

Also — the State Department’s hiring effort called Diplomacy 3.0 to increase its Foreign Service workforce by 25 percent by 2013 was derailed due to emerging budgetary constraints. It is anticipated that this goal will not be met until 2023.

Foreign Service Staffing Gaps, and Oh, Diplomacy 3.0 Hiring Initiative to Conclude in FY2023

The GAO just released its June 2012 report on the Foreign Service staffing gaps (GAO: Foreign Service Midlevel Staffing Gaps Persist Despite Significant Increases in Hiring (June 2012). Here are the main take aways:

  • The Department of State faces persistent experience gaps in overseas Foreign Service positions, particularly at the midlevels, and these gaps have not diminished since 2008.
  • According to State officials, midlevel gaps have grown in recent years because most of the new positions created under Diplomacy 3.0 were midlevel positions and State only hires entry-level Foreign Service employees. In prior reports, we found that midlevel experience gaps compromise diplomatic readiness, and State officials confirmed that these gaps continue to impact overseas operations.
  • The State Department’s Five Year Workforce Plan does not include a specific strategy to guide efforts to address midlevel gaps.

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Details, Details

  • GAO found that 28 percent of overseas Foreign Service positions were either vacant or filled by upstretch candidates—officers serving in positions above their grade—as of October 2011, a percentage that has not changed since 2008.
  • Midlevel positions represent the largest share of these gaps. According to State officials, the gaps have not diminished because State increased the total number of overseas positions in response to increased needs and emerging priorities.
  • Among generalists, the consular section has the largest gaps, in terms of the total number of positions that are vacant or filled with upstretch assignments, because it is the largest generalist section. According to our analysis, about 170 consular positions were vacant as of October 31, 2011, and about 250 consular positions were filled with upstretch assignments.
  • [T]he Public Diplomacy section has a relatively high upstretch rate, with nearly one-quarter of all Public Diplomacy positions filled with upstretch assignments. State officials noted that gaps within the Public Diplomacy section, particularly at the midlevels, have persisted since the late 1990s, when the U.S. Information Agency—which had responsibility for public diplomacy—was integrated into State.

Hiring Initiatives

  • State implemented the “Diplomatic Readiness Initiative,” which resulted in hiring over 1,000 new employees above attrition from 2002 to 2004. However, as we previously reported, most of this increase was absorbed by the demand for personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • In 2009, State began another hiring effort called Diplomacy 3.0 to increase its Foreign Service workforce by 25 percent by 2013. However, due to emerging budgetary constraints, State now anticipates this goal will not be met until 2023.

Hiring Projections

  • State increased the size of the Foreign Service by about 17 percent in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, but overseas experience gaps—the percentage of positions that are vacant or filled with upstretch assignments—have not declined since 2008 because State increased the total number of overseas positions in response to increased needs and emerging diplomatic priorities. These gaps are largest at the midlevels and in hardship posts.
  • [D]ue to budget constraints, hiring has slowed significantly, and State only added 38 new Foreign Service positions above attrition in fiscal year 2011. In that year, it also modified its hiring projections to reflect a downward revision of future budget estimates for fiscal year 2012 and beyond. State now projects it will add 150 new Foreign Service positions above attrition in fiscal year 2012 and 82 new Foreign Service positions above attrition in each of the following 6 years.

Mind the Gaps – Location, Location

  • [P]ositions in posts of greatest hardship are 44 percent more likely to be vacant than positions at posts with low or no hardship differentials.
  • Additionally, when positions are filled, posts of greatest hardship are 81 percent more likely to use an upstretch candidate than posts with low or no hardship differentials (“upstretch” assignments—assignments in which the position’s grade is at least one grade higher than that of the officer assigned to it).
  • State has created a wide range of measures and financial and nonfinancial incentives to encourage officers to bid on assignments at hardship posts. (Foreign Service employees may receive favorable consideration for promotion for service in hardship posts. Additionally, State uses Fair Share bidding rules, which require employees who have not served in a hardship location within the last 8 years to bid on at least three positions in hardship posts).

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Mind the Gaps – Where the New Jobs Are

  • State officials noted that AIP posts—State’s highest-priority posts—account for much of the increase in new positions. As figure 3 shows, regionally, the largest share of new positions is in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, primarily because of increases in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the majority of new positions are in a small number of countries where State has high levels of engagement.
  • [A]bout 40 percent of all new positions are in AIP countries and an additional 20 percent are in 5 other countries: Mexico, Brazil, China, India, and Russia. State officials noted that this distribution of new positions reflects the department’s changing foreign policy priorities.

Foreign Service Conversion Program

  • [E]fforts to increase the number of Civil Service assignments to Foreign Service positions must be consistent with State’s human capital rules, which state that the department’s goal is to fill Foreign Service positions with Foreign Service employees except under special circumstances.
  • The QDDR stated that, while all State personnel can apply to enter the Foreign Service through the traditional selection process, it is in the department’s interest to offer more and quicker pathways for qualified and interested Civil Service employees to join the Foreign Service. However, State’s Foreign Service Conversion Program has strict eligibility requirements, which limit the number of conversions. The program’s application and review process resulted in only three Civil Service applicants recommended for conversion in 2010 and four in 2011.

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Accelerated Promotion, Anyone?

State’s Five Year Workforce Plan, officers hired in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 under the first wave of Diplomacy 3.0 hiring will begin to be eligible for promotion to the midlevels in fiscal years 2014 or 2015. In recent years, State has accelerated the average time it takes for officers to be promoted into the midlevels, in part to fill gaps. However, officials from State’s regional bureaus and AFSA expressed concerns that this creates a different form of experience gap, as some officers may be promoted before they are fully prepared to assume new responsibilities.

A few striking things here besides the obvious —

State created new positions under Diplomacy 3.0, all midlevel positions. Instead of hiring midlevel personnel to fill those positions, it continued to hire entry level personnel. Why? Because “State only hires entry-level Foreign Service employees.” Gocha! Because that makes perfect sense.  Read this on why the State Department’s hiring philosophy needs an extreme makeover.

State has 10,490 Civil Service employees and was only able to convert four employees to the Foreign Service. That’s like what – 0.03813 percent conversion rate to help bridge the gap? That’s not going to make any dent whatsoever.

Given the number of FS retirees, some forced out in the up or out system, others  through mandatory retirement, State has not put those experience to effective use.  In FY2011, some 350 retirees were given WAE (When Actually Employed) appointments.  These retirees who return to work have a cap of 1,040 hours of employment per calendar year.  But as GAO notes, individual bureaus maintain their own lists of retirees and hire them as WAEs from their own budgets. State has no initiatives currently under way to expand its use of WAEs.

So there. We’ll be extremely relieved come FY 2023.

Domani Spero