Foreign affairs group urges State to go after more staff

The State Department should be more aggressive in advocating for staffing boosts, a foreign affairs group said in a new report evaluating Secretary Hillary Clinton's leadership over the past two years.

Foreign Affairs Council president and former ambassador to Colombia Thomas Boyatt, who drafted the report, expressed particular concern over the Obama administration's fiscal 2012 budget request, which sought funding for 150 additional Foreign Service positions at State and 165 at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Speaking Wednesday at the American Foreign Service Association headquarters, he said those demands were inadequate and less substantial than in past years.

"By asking for reduced numbers they're in a pre-emptive capitulation -- giving up before the battle starts," Boyatt said.

He did laud Clinton's past budget maneuverings, which he said resulted in a 17 percent expansion of Foreign Service personnel over fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2010, adding 764 positions at State and 350 at USAID in fiscal 2010 alone. But lawmakers did not grant State's request for additional personnel in fiscal 2011, the report noted, and as of May, unmet staffing requests for fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2012 combined were 560 at State and 365 at USAID.

The council, composed of 11 organizations involved with diplomacy, focuses on the management of foreign policy and has released biennial assessments of State for the past 10 years.

The report began by predicting simultaneous conflicts, alongside diplomacy and development, will present challenges for the State Department. It also recognized the current economic and budget situation, but warned that federal budget constraints should not reverse past improvements.

"We are very worried about the future," Boyatt said.

According to Boyatt, Clinton's recognition of the defense, diplomacy and development triad, coupled with State's December 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, has helped the agency adapt and reinvent itself as the nature of global diplomacy changes.

QDDR recommendations represent the most significant management initiatives in the past few decades, Boyatt said.

But in addition to the staffing situation, the Foreign Affairs Council expressed concern over a lack of employees with hard language proficiency, particularly a shortage of Arabists, which could have negative consequences for Middle East diplomacy in the future.

"I don't want to be critical of Secretary Clinton yet, but let's call it a warning notice," Boyatt said. "This is not a good sign."

The report recommended State lobby Congress to pass legislation requiring a QDDR to ensure managerial innovation in the future. It also encouraged the department to immediately implement the recommendations in the recent quadrennial review. To assist in that effort, Clinton should appoint a senior official to be in charge of QDDR implementation, the council advised.

Boyatt called on Clinton to add 1,250 Foreign Service positions at State and 650 at USAID by fiscal 2014. He acknowledged budget decreases were likely, but said the department should cut into programs rather than personnel.

As the nature of diplomacy evolves, Boyatt warned, the department's efforts could fall behind without more personnel.

"The goalpost will keep moving constantly, we need more positions," he said. "If our diplomacy averts one war in a generation, think of the value."

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment on the report.

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