State Department hiring effort pays off

A two-year old hiring initiative at the State Department is successfully helping the department address projected staffing shortfalls, according to the General Accounting Office.

The report (GAO-04-139) warned, however, that more effort is needed to stave off shortages in staffers with certain language skills.

In 2001, State officials implemented the $197 million diplomatic readiness initiative, which focused on bringing in people for foreign service and civil service positions. The department used workforce planning techniques to identify the number of junior officers it needs to hire over the next five to 10 years.

The analysis showed State needed to add 386 positions, mostly at the middle levels of the Foreign Service. The department began implementing a plan to address the shortfall, and met its hiring goals in 2002 and 2003, GAO found.

But State officials anticipate it will take up to 10 years to promote enough junior officers through the ranks to fill the mid-level gaps.

Also, the department continues to face challenges hiring staffers with hard-to-learn language skills, such as Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian, GAO said. More than 20 percent of public diplomacy officers posted overseas in positions requiring language skills do not have the language proficiency needed to do the job, the report found.

While State officials admit the number of officers proficient in certain languages is insufficient, its workforce plan does not specify how many staffers are needed with such skills, GAO found.

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