Remember When the Fight For Reform Used to be Normal in the Foreign Service

Posted: 2:31 am ET

 

All this talk about reorganization …. a retired FSO recently told us that the last time there was a grass roots, officer led call for action for changes in the Foreign Service was in 1999. The officer remembered “stealth RIF of FSOs, expansion of GS and political appointees and virtually no attention to the institution itself and its longstanding, multiple problems.”

 

 

Madeleine K. Albright was secretary of state from 1997 to 2001. She  recently wrote an op-ed about the “hollowing out” of the State Department (see WaPo: The national security emergency we’re not talking about).  Yay! What short memories we have.  We should also note that Warren Christopher who preceded Albright served as secretary of state from 1993-1997 and managed the then unprecedented 27% budget and staffing cuts at the State Department (see The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA).

As the retired FSO shared the story, a small group of concerned active officers came together and the result was a letter drafted “when the talk became tiresome.”  The letter we’re sharing below appeared as a Department Notice (Thanks X!), was reworked numerous times and eventually gained over 1,500 signatures from ambassadors to secretaries. This was the days before social media, and without the Sounding Board. The FSOs involved sent out the letter via emails and collected signatures at the entrance of the cafeteria in Foggy Bottom.  One FSO subsequently added a crossed but clipped blue ribbon, which by the time the new Secretary of State arrived had spread throughout the Department.  The FSO explained that the ribbon meant “No more blue ribbon panels!”, of which there had already been far too many and no action.

All of this had apparently been timed to be able to address the still unknown next Secretary of State (who turned out to be Colin Powell).  He was met by a sea of clipped blue ribbons the day he arrived and we were told that the movement was one of the things that caused him to announce that he intended to be a COO as well as be CEO of the Department. We understand that two things derailed the effort: 1) one of Powell’s senior manager’s fixation/fear of the strategic in favor of smaller, tactical fixes wherever opportunities presented themselves, and 2) 9/11 happened which set the stage for the real future decline of the Foreign Service and the Department.

The retired FSO said: “The point is that no serious or worthwhile “reform” effort has ever moved forward with any success without active duty initiation and demands, and the fact that there has been none such since the last century is more sadly symptomatic than anything else.  But maybe if today’s officers even have a vague sense that such is both possible and part of their job as officers, maybe there are a few who could still step forward.  At least they should know that such action USED to be normal in the Foreign Service.”

For folks who want to read up on organizational history and behavior, also check out A Theory of Public Bureaucracy: Politics, Personality, and Organization in the State Department.  The books is from 1979 but still worth a read and affords a window into understanding an organization that changes and remains the same all at the same time.

 

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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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The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA

Posted: 4:39 am ET
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Reporting for the Washington Post in 1996, Thomas Lippman wrote that “The total budget for civilian international programs, the so-called 150 account, started to decline in the mid-1980s. It leveled off during the Bush administration, then resumed a downward slide in President Clinton’s first year.” He noted that “the relentless budget pressure that began in the mid-1980s accelerated with the Clinton administration’s deficit-reduction plan, forcing the closing of consulates, aid missions, libraries, cultural centers and even a few entire embassies, from Italy to Indonesia, from Antigua to Thailand” (see U.S. Diplomacy’s Presence Shrinking).

Bill Clinton was elected President of the United States defeating incumbent George H. W. Bush in 1992Warren M. Christopher was nominated Secretary of State by then President-elect Clinton in December 1992.  Christopher was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on January 20, 1993, and sworn in the next day. Two months into the new administration, Secretary Christopher made his first official congressional appearance as Secretary of State before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, and Judiciary House Appropriations Committee to talk about redirecting American foreign policy, refocusing the aid budgets, and reforming institutions.

Secretary Christopher at that time said that “American foreign policy in the years ahead will be grounded in what President Clinton has called the three “pillars” of our national interest:  first, revitalizing our economy; second, updating our  security forces for a new era; and, third, protecting democracy as the  best means to protect our own national security while expanding the  reach of freedom, human rights, prosperity, and peace.”  He talked about Saddam Hussein, “If the lawlessness of [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein has taught us any single lesson, it is that weapons of mass destruction, especially when combined  with missile technology, can transform a petty tyrant into a threat to world peace and stability.” Secretary Christopher talked about the State Department budget, “It will be a tough budget for tough times.  It will be a flexible budget that seeks austerity, not as a hardship to be endured but as a challenge to innovate and do our job  better.  Above all, we hope that this budget will mark a transitional step to a truly focused budget that sets priorities and puts resources behind them.”

Oh, brother where are ya?

In February 1993, Secretary Christopher also sent a  message to State Department employees on the Implementation Directive on Reorganization.  Two months into the Trump Administration, and days after the OMB released Trump’s “skinny budget” we have yet to hear from Secretary Tillerson on where the State Department go from here.  We know that he supports the budget cuts for his department, and he has made no public effort of defending the funding and programs for his agency but the top diplomat of the United States still has not articulated the foreign policy priorities of this administration. If Secretary Tillerson has sent a message to his troops in Foggy Bottom, we have yet to hear about it or its contents.

The proposed FY18 budget slashes the international affairs budget by 28% or 36% with Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) funding factored in.  If passed by Congress, what happens to That Three-Legged Stool of American Foreign Policy?  As diplomacy and development will be hobbled by cuts, are we going to see an exponential growth in private contractors in support of DOD, diplomacy and development? Or are we going to just see staffing gaps and reduced diplomatic footprints from Algeria to Zimbabwe?

In Tillerson’s recent interview with IJR, he said about the State Department budget that “One can say it’s not going to happen in one year, and it’s not.”

He’s right.  The cuts may happen this year, and next year, and every fiscal year thereafter.  It sounds to us like an “American First” foreign policy does not see much use for diplomacy.  So we expect that the State Department budget will continue to be targeted during the entire Trump term. But if history is any indication, the decisions made today will have repercussions for our country down the road. Back in 1993, Secretary Christopher said, “when the time eventually comes to restore diplomatic relations with Iran, Iraq, Somalia and Libya, the money and personnel for those posts probably will have to come out of existing resources, officials said, thus increasing the pressure to close marginal posts elsewhere.” In 1996, the then Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) director John D. Holum warned that the agency “no longer has a U.S. technical expert assigned to the U.N. weapons inspection team in Iraq.”  

With the exception of Iran, we are back in Iraq, and Somalia, and we know what happened in Libya.  We don’t grow diplomats overnight. Expertise and diplomatic muscle grow with time, with every assignment, with every challenge. What happens when the next crisis erupts in Asia? Can we just pluck diplomats and development experts from the OPM growth chamber?  Or are we going to have a civilian surge once more with diplomats lacking experience and language skills thrown into a pit and then expected to do an effective job?

Remember, do you remember?

We should note that the Democrats had control of the House and the Senate after the 1992 elections but the midterm elections in 1994 resulted in a net gain of 54 seats in the House of Representatives for the GOP, and a pickup of eight seats in the Senate. That was the Gingrich Revolution.  By the way, R.C. Hammond who previously served as press secretary to Newt Gingrich (a vocal Trump ally) is now a communications adviser for Secretary Tillerson.

WaPo reported that between 1993-1996 “the State Department has cut more than 2,000 employees and shuttered consulates in 26 foreign cities. The Agency for International Development (AID), which runs foreign aid programs, has been hit especially hard by the Republican-controlled Congress and has closed 23 missions overseas.”

In 1995, according to NYT: The U.S. ambassadors to Italy, France, Britain, Spain, the E.U., Germany, Russia and NATO reportedly got together and sent a secret cable to Secretary Christopher, signed by all of them, telling him that the “delivery system” of U.S. foreign policy was being destroyed by budget cuts. They pleaded with him to mobilize those constituencies in the U.S. that value the work of embassies, and volunteered to come to Washington to testify before Congress in their defense. The ambassadors got a polite note back from Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott, telling them he understood their concerns but that there was a new mood in Congress. There was no invitation to testify.

The State Department at that time reportedly also promoted the concept of “diplomatic readiness,” similar to military readiness, “in hopes of persuading Congress to divert some money from the defense budget into diplomacy and foreign aid — activities that, in the diplomats’ view, save money over time by reducing the need for military actions.”

More than 100 businesses, trade associations, law firms and volunteer groups did organize a “Campaign to Preserve U.S. Global Leadership” without much success.

And this despite the fact that a 1994 GAO study indicates that only 38 percent of the U.S. government personnel in embassies work for the State Department, while 36 percent work for the Pentagon, 5 percent for Justice and 3 percent for Transportation. The other 18 percent includes representatives of the Treasury, Agriculture and Commerce departments.  We don’t know what is the current breakdown of federal agencies operating overseas under the State Department umbrella but if the Trump Administration starts turning off the lights in Africa, or Asia for instance, that could also prove problematic for the Pentagon.

What a 27% budget cut looked like for the international affairs budget?

By Fall 1995, the State Department released a Q&A on the International Affairs Budget–A Sound Investment in Global Leadership.  It includes the following:

Q. Since most Americans favor reducing government spending to balance the federal budget, have the State Department and other foreign affairs  agencies done anything to cut costs?

A. Yes, the Administration has done a great deal to cut costs. We have already:

— Cut the foreign assistance budget request by 20%;

–Trimmed more than 1,100 jobs at the State Department and 600 jobs at  the U.S. Information Agency (USIA);

–Identified, for elimination by 1997, about 2,000 jobs at the U.S.  Agency for International Development (USAID);

–Decreased administrative and overhead costs by $100 million; and

–Closed, or scheduled for closing, 36 diplomatic or consular posts, 10 USIA posts, and 28 USAID missions abroad.

OVERSEAS POSTS CLOSED, 1993-96 Consulates, consulates general and State Department branch offices: Algeria Austria Australia Brazil Colombia Egypt France Germany Indonesia Italy (2) Kenya Martinique Mexico Nigeria Philippines Poland Somalia Spain Switzerland (2) Turkey Thailand (2) Venezuela Zaire Embassies Antigua and Barbuda Comoros Equatorial Guinea Seychelles Solomon Islands. AID missions Afghanistan Argentina Belize Botswana Burkina Faso Cameroon Cape Verde Caribbean region Chad Chile Costa Rica Estonia Ivory Coast Lesotho Oman Pakistan South Pacific Switzerland Thailand Togo Tunisia Uruguay Zaire (via)

According to WaPo in 1996, USAID’s overall work force “has been reduced from 11,500 to 8,700 and is heading down to 8,000. The number of full “sustainable development missions” — on-site teams promoting long-term diversified economic development — declined from 70 at the start of the administration to 30.”

That’s what a 27% budget cut inflected on the international affairs budget did in the 90’s.

By 1999, with the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and the United States Information Agency (USIA) were both abolished and folded into the State Department.

Who ya gonna call?

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell was recently quoted saying, “America being a force is a lot more than building up the Defense Department. Diplomacy is important, extremely important, and I don’t think these reductions at the State Department are appropriate.”

According to the Washington Examiner, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn  apparently signaled that President Trump’s initial proposed budget “won’t dictate how the State Department gets funded.” “The president’s budget goes in the waste basket as soon as it gets here,” he said.

We should note that in the 1990s, both houses of Congress (GOP) and a White House under a Democrat worked together to slashed the State Department budget. It was not a question of how much to cut, but where to cut.  This time around, we have a Republican Congress and a Republican White House, but while the WH is gunning for these cuts, the Senate particularly, appears not to be quite on board with the slash and burn cuts.  Still, we are reminded what former Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament Stephen J. Ledogar (1990-1997) noted in his oral history (PDF) — that “Not very many people will admit this, but the administration bowing to Congress on those consolidations was part of the price that was paid by the Clinton administration to Jesse Helms in exchange for him agreeing to let the Chemical Weapons Convention go through the Senate.” 

So … while there are differences in the circumstances during the budget cuts in the 1990’s and the proposed budget cuts in the current and FY18 fiscal years, we are mindful how things can change with the right carrots.

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