State of Uncertainty

Staff shortfalls are undercutting Condoleezza Rice's efforts to transform her agency.

The midterm grades are in, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice isn't exactly earning top marks. An independent assessment of her managerial stewardship finds that the former academic all-star is a middling performer when it comes to garnering the personnel and resources needed to meet her stated goals for the agency.

Perhaps most important, the biennial assessment by the Foreign Affairs Council notes that some 200 jobs, mostly positions overseas, sit vacant, and an additional 900 training slots are needed to provide language and other essential training. "Job One for State Department management is to obtain the 1,100 new positions needed to move the Foreign Service from where it is to where it needs to be in the context of Secretary Rice's highest priority-her signature 'transformational diplomacy' initiative," the report found.

The initiative aims to move the agency from its Cold War posture into the age of transnational threats by shifting hundreds of employees out of Europe to regional trouble spots that threaten American interests and to centers of newly emerging powers, such as India. She also wants to shift the professional focus of the Foreign Service from reporting to managing programs and building institutions. To do this, State requires expanded training programs and language requirements.

Rice inherited a department undergoing tremendous change when she took over from former Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2005. Powell had sought to infuse a new culture of leadership at State and was able to gain significant support from Congress and the White House to beef up inadequate staffing and overhaul antiquated infrastructure.

Although Rice supported those initiatives, "the impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan hit the State Department fully only after Secretary Rice arrived, vacuuming up the additional personnel and resources gained during [Powell's Diplomatic Readiness Initiative] era, as well as huge amounts of other resources," the report found.

Although State has received significant additional funding for diplomatic and consular programs since 2001, none of the positions requested in 2006 or 2007 for training and transformational diplomacy have been granted, the report added.

The report noted that about 750 overseas positions are in such dangerous places that family members cannot accompany State employees for one-year tours. More than one-fifth of all current Foreign Service officers have served in Iraq.

The full impact of the increasing number of unaccompanied tours is beginning to be felt. "More than 1,000 have returned from such duty, and the supply of willing volunteers no longer suffices despite financial incentives. To manage the morale problems that are appearing, top State Department leaders need to take extraordinary measures to demonstrate their concern for the troops and to reassure employees that their sacrifices are worth the pain," the report found.

The nonpartisan Foreign Affairs Council represents 11 organizations concerned with American diplomacy and management at State. It does not weigh in on policy matters but rather with "the stewardship of the Secretary of State as a leader and manager." The report also noted that Rice has been on the job only two years "in an era of more than usual stress."

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