State Department recruits for Civilian Response Corps

The State Department is seeking qualified civilian federal employees to serve in a new response corps to assist in post-conflict situations abroad.

Ambassador John Herbst, State's coordinator for reconstruction and stabilization, told Government Executive on Jan. 29 that the department has begun recruiting federal workers to serve in the active and reserve components of the Civilian Response Corps. The corps will comprise 250 active-duty, 2,000 standby and 2,000 reserve personnel in fields such as public health, law enforcement, engineering, economics, law and public administration, he said. The active and standby components will include federal employees, he said, while the reserve personnel will consist of experts from the private sector and state and local governments.

While former President George W. Bush requested $248.6 million during the fiscal 2009 appropriations process to build the response corps, Herbst said the program received only $55 million from the war supplemental approved in May 2008. The 111th Congress is considering the remainder of that budget request as part of an omnibus spending package, he added.

With the money appropriated thus far, State has started recruiting for 100 members of an active pool and 500 members of a standby component for CRC, according to Herbst. The department so far has 400 people on standby and has begun hiring for active duty, he added.

Federal employees can apply for the 100 full-time positions currently available in the active segment of the corps, which will span eight departments and agencies: the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, State and Treasury departments. Members of the active corps are specialists in the aforementioned fields who can deploy to a crisis with just 48 hours' notice.

Federal workers also can apply for the 500 standby positions available across the same eight departments and agencies. Those who volunteer for the standby component will undergo additional training and be available to serve in stabilization missions when necessary. Standby personnel will deploy within 30 days and will serve for up to 180 days.

Pending additional funding, State also will begin recruiting for CRC's reserve branch, which will be made up of 2,000 volunteers from the private sector and state and local governments. These people, such as police officers, city administrators and port operators, will possess additional skills in scarce supply in the federal government. When on duty, reserve members will receive the same benefits and salary as State employees, Herbst said.

While the federal civilian workforce has long served in difficult environments abroad, lessons learned from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere have highlighted the need for more people focusing on reconstruction and stabilization, Herbst said. But that introduces a new set of challenges, he added, since it requires a dramatic shift in the way government approaches and allocates resources for conflict response. Another issue is its reluctance to place more civilians in arduous environments.

"The dangers and problems are logistical insecurity, and we have put together an approach that will handle those problems," he said. "But for people who are interested in this sort of work, they have to understand that we're not hiring them to go to conferences in Paris. We're hiring them to go to places where things are difficult and dangerous."

Disparities in pay and benefits among members of the corps, various agencies and the military also could challenge recruitment. A report released last year by the House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee found that there were both real and perceived differences in compensation and other incentives for federal employees from different agencies and job classifications deploying to war zones.

But Herbst said those issues are not likely to hamper efforts to recruit quality people to the corps, noting that other incentives, such as danger and hardship pay as well as job satisfaction, would be enough to attract candidates. "We are not recruiting people who want to become the next J.P. Morgan," he said. "We are recruiting people who have both a sense of adventure and patriotism and who want the opportunity to engage on important world issues."

The United States lags behind Canada and some European countries in the development of a civilian response corps, Herbst said. But once up and running, he added, CRC could coordinate with other international programs. "I see the capability we're building being used with others in many instances, although sometimes on our own," he said. "We have already worked closely with many of our sister offices, especially the British and Canadians, in crisis spots around the world."

Federal employees can view and apply for CRC vacancies at www.civilianresponsecorps.gov.

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