Powell plans hiring, technology initiatives if budget hike approved

Secretary of State Colin Powell is asking Congress for a 14 percent increase in the State Department's operating budget next year, with much of the money targeted to fill job vacancies, buy new computer equipment and improve embassy security. The increase, a reflection of Powell's stature in the Bush administration, is on par with increases for the Education and Defense departments, which oversee two of the areas that Bush campaigned on. "Now we have need of a more sophisticated, a more efficient, a more effective foreign policy," Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week. "Now is the time to provide to the principal practitioners of that foreign policy the resources they need to conduct it." State's operating budget would increase from $6.6 billion this year to $7.5 billion next year under Powell's proposal. State Department officials on Monday said that the extra money next year would be used to hire 360 new foreign service and civil service employees as well as 186 new security personnel. The State Department estimates that it needs to add 1,100 positions to its payroll in the coming years to fulfill its mission. James Millette, head of State's Office of Budget and Planning, said next year's hiring push would be the beginning of an effort to fill all those positions. Millette said some of the budget boost would also be used to train and retain existing employees. The new hires are in addition to the 700 positions a year that the State Department must fill because of normal attrition, Millette said. Department officials plan to use $273 million to put full Internet access on every State Department employee's desktop and to create a classified worldwide communications network. "At every desktop right now we have Internet email capability, but it's not the full browsing capability," Millette said. The department plans to spend $1.3 billion on security improvements and put an extra $60 million a year toward general infrastructure, which Millette described as "your meat-and-potatoes replacement of machinery and maintenance around our embassies." In comparison to the overall increase of 5.5 percent in the international affairs budget, which includes foreign assistance programs, the 14 percent operating budget sends a message to State Department employees who have long complained that poor equipment and staffing limits have made it difficult to do their jobs. Several reports in recent years have called for a bigger State Department budget and for improvements in management. On the management front, Powell told both House and Senate committees last week that he is committed to cutting management layers at the department, though he has yet to make specific plans for doing so. Powell also intends to revamp the Foreign Buildings Operation, the much-criticized office that manages State's overseas properties. Powell is proposing to remove a layer of management between himself and the head of that office. He has also appointed retired Maj. Gen. Chuck Williams to oversee the Foreign Buildings Operation and conduct a review of its property management practices. Williams served in the Army Corps of Engineers.
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