State Department pushes back on reports of plans to slash Iraq staff

AP file photo

The State Department is vociferously pushing back against what it called “funky” reports that the U.S. plans to cut the size of its diplomatic presence in Baghdad by as much as half because of security concerns and ongoing tensions with the increasingly authoritarian government.

“Contrary to some of the news reports, we are not reducing our operations by 50 percent,” Thomas Nides, deputy secretary of State for management and resources, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday. “But, quite frankly, I am hopeful that over the next few months we will be able to reduce our size by reducing our dependency on contractors.... We owe it to the taxpayers.”

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the U.S. was preparing to cut down the size and scope of the embassy in Baghdad -- where 16,000 diplomats and contractors are stationed -- by half because of security concerns and tussling with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.  Nides said he doesn’t know “where the 50 percent number came from, but it is what it is.”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland blasted the “wild guesstimates” in a “couple of funky pieces” about the reductions in personnel. “To the degree to which there may be a reduction in the diplomatic personnel, it'll be modest,” she told reporters during a briefing on Wednesday.

The assessment of how to create a more “normalized embassy presence” since the last American troops pulled out of the country in December will continue well into this year, Nides said. Going contract by contract to determine what goods the U.S. can purchase locally -- as opposed to bringing them in from over the border -- will dramatically reduce dependency on contractors, he added.

Another way to trim expenses is to consolidate some of the locations and spaces the diplomatic presence actually needs, and rely more on local Iraqi contractors, Nides said. The number of security guards is “a total derivative” of the square footage they need to protect, he noted. 

A day earlier, Nuland dismissed the complaints featured in the Times article about how “life became more difficult” for the thousands of diplomats and contractors after the last American troops pulled out in December. After convoys were delayed at border crossings, the Times reported that “within days, the salad bar at the embassy dining hall ran low. Sometimes there was no sugar or Splenda for coffee. On chicken-wing night, wings were rationed at six per person.”

Nuland said on Tuesday she did not consider an insufficient amount of arugula at the salad bar to necessarily constitute a hardship in Iraq. “Frankly, I saw that story,” Nuland said, “and it looked like some, some whingeing that was inappropriate... on the part of embassy employees, with regard to the quality of the salad bar.”

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.