Change at Foggy Bottom; Rice's Restructuring of the Foreign Service

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 31, 2006 | Go to article overview

Change at Foggy Bottom; Rice's Restructuring of the Foreign Service


Byline: Fred Gedrich and Paul E. Vallely, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently announced bold State Department transformation plans. The secretary called for, among other things, a global repositioning of diplomatic personnel and recalibration of the agency's mission. The plans will surely stir the hornet's nest.

Career Foreign Service Officers (FSOs), who handle the bulwark of U.S. diplomatic activity, have a notorious record in resisting change and the legitimacy of presidential and congressional control and direction. Some have been accused of purposely undermining President George W. Bush's global war on terror and national-security strategy.

The department must play a vital role in confronting the enormous diplomatic and national-security challenges facing America and the free world. With diplomats deployed to many of the globe's most strategically important areas and dangerous outposts, it is the perfect instrument to carry out the president's vision of making the world more secure, free and prosperous for the benefit of Americans and the international community.

About 6,400 FSOs perform the nation's diplomatic business. And the department assigns one third of them to positions in Washington, while the rest serve in U.S. embassies, consulates and missions to international organizations in 180 countries.

Believing current diplomatic staffing is not attuned to contemporary geopolitical realities, Miss Rice would like to eventually shift several hundred FSO positions - most from desk jobs in Washington and comfortable assignments in Europe - to less desirable but more important posts in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere. The secretary expects the change will enhance the promotion of American values; help build democracy and prosperity; and fight terrorism, disease and human trafficking.

Unfortunately, her plans will likely encounter difficulty. Presidents and secretaries of state since Franklin D. Roosevelt have learned that FSOs and the American Foreign Service Association, the sole bargaining agent for the 23,000 active and retired FSOs, are more apt to reject, rather than embrace, reform plans and the legitimacy of foreign-policy direction received from elected and appointed officials.

During World War II, President Roosevelt countered State Department intransigence by creating his own personal diplomatic corps, relying on back-channels to communicate directly with U.S. wartime allies. Today's presidential critics would undoubtedly consider the action "hijacking State Department foreign policy." Government Accountability Office and State Department Inspector General (IG) reports covering two decades cast doubt on whether the secretary's plans can succeed without overhauling, or scrapping, the assignment system. The 30-year-old system is driven by employee preferences, as opposed to department needs. …

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