Friday, June 19, 2009

H.R. 2410: Towards a Modern and Expeditionary Foreign Service

TITLE III-- Subtitle A of H.R. 2410 calls for modernizing the Department of State. Section 301 specifically provides for “a more modern and expeditionary Foreign Service." I don’t know why “a more modern” language is used here. One is either modern or not. What does “more modern” actually means, I can’t say but see below. Full text of the bill is here.

SEC. 301. TOWARDS A MORE MODERN AND EXPEDITIONARY FOREIGN SERVICE.

(a) Targeted Expansion of Foreign Service- The Secretary of State shall expand the Foreign Service to--

(1) fill vacancies, particularly those vacancies overseas that are critical to key United States foreign policy and national security interests, and, in particular, to prevent crises before they emerge;

(2) increase the capacity of the Department of State to assign and deploy Foreign Service officers and other personnel to prevent, mitigate, and respond to international crises and instability in foreign countries that threaten key United States foreign policy and national security interests; and

(3) ensure that before being assigned to assignments requiring new or improved skills, members of the Foreign Service, other than foreign national employees and consular agents (as such terms are defined in section 103 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 U.S.C. 3903)), as appropriate, receive language, security, area, and other training that is necessary to successfully execute their responsibilities and to enable such members to obtain advanced and other education that will increase the capacity of the Foreign Service to complete its mission.

(b) Authorized Increases-

(1) AT THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE- The Secretary of State is authorized to hire an additional 750 members of the Foreign Service (above attrition) in fiscal year 2010 over the number of such members employed as of September 30, 2009, and an additional 750 members of the Foreign Service (above attrition) in fiscal year 2011 over the number of such members employed as of September 30, 2010.

(2) AT USAID- The Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development is authorized to hire an additional 350 members of the Foreign Service (above attrition) in fiscal year 2010 over the number of such members employed as of September 30, 2009, and an additional 350 members of the Foreign Service (above attrition) in fiscal year 2011 over the number of such members employed as of September 30, 2010.

(3) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION- Nothing in this subsection shall be construed as limiting the authority of the Secretary of State or the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development to hire personnel.

(c) Expansion of Functions of the Foreign Service- Section 104 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 U.S.C. 3904) is amended--

(1) by redesignating paragraphs (2) and (3) as paragraphs (3) and (4), respectively; and

(2) by inserting after paragraph (1) the following new paragraph:

‘(2) work actively to prevent, mitigate, and respond in a timely manner to international crises and instability in foreign countries that threaten the key United States foreign policy and national security interests;’.

(d) Worldwide Availability- Section 301(b) of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 U.S.C. 3941(b)) is amended--

(1) by inserting ‘(1)’ before ‘The Secretary’; and

(2) by adding at the end the following new paragraph:

‘(2)(A) Except as provided in subparagraphs (B) and (C), at the time of entry into the Service, each member of the Service shall be available to be assigned worldwide.

‘(B) With respect to the medical eligibility of any applicant for appointment as a Foreign Service officer candidate, the Secretary of State shall determine such availability through appropriate medical examinations. If based on such examinations the Secretary determines that such applicant is ineligible to be assigned worldwide, the Secretary may waive the worldwide availability requirement under subparagraph (A) if the Secretary determines that such waiver is required to fulfill a compelling Service need. The Secretary shall establish an internal administrative review process for medical ineligibility determinations.

‘(C) The Secretary may also waive or reduce the worldwide availability requirement under subparagraph (A) if the Secretary determines, in the Secretary’s discretion, that such waiver or reduction is warranted.’.

(e) Recruiting Candidates Who Have Experience in Unstable Situations- Section 301 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 U.S.C. 3941), as amended by section 212(c) of this Act, is further amended by adding at the end the following new subsection:

‘(f) Experience in Unstable Situations- The fact that an applicant for appointment as a Foreign Service officer candidate has the experience of working in situations where public order has been undermined by instability, or where there is no civil authority that can effectively provide public safety, may be considered an affirmative factor in making such appointments.’.

(f) Training- Section 708 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 (22 U.S.C. 4028) is amended by adding at the end the following new subsections:

‘(c) The Secretary of State shall ensure that members of the Service, other than foreign national employees and consular agents, as appropriate, receive training on methods for conflict mitigation and resolution and on the necessary skills to be able to function successfully where public order has been undermined by instability or where there is no civil authority that can effectively provide public safety.

‘(d) The Secretary of State shall ensure that members of the Service, other than foreign national employees and consular agents, as appropriate, have opportunities during their careers to obtain advanced education and training in academic and other relevant institutions in the United States and abroad to increase the capacity of the Service to fulfill its mission.’

* * *

First, if this bill passes, I hope this would just be a down payment on that much-talked about Foreign Service bench strength. This authorizes the hiring of an additional 1500 FS employees above attrition for State and 700 new employees above attrition for USAID in the next two fiscal years. A 2007 report from the GAO says that from 2002 through 2004, the DRI (Diplomatic readiness Initiative) enabled State to hire more than 1,000 employees above attrition to respond to emerging crises and allow staff time for critical job training. However, that increase was absorbed by the demand for personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan; and thus, the desired crises and training reserve was not achieved.

The Embassy of the Future Commission called for more than 1,000 additional diplomats—a 9.3 percent increase; however, the American Academy of Diplomacy documented the need for 2,848 additional State positions for core diplomatic functions and a training complement, as well as for 1,250 additional USAID positions by Fiscal Year 2014. In a recent congressional hearing, Jack Lew pointed out that in FY 1990, USAID employed nearly 3,500 permanent direct hires administering $5 billion a year in assistance. As of FY 2008, USAID employed about 2,200 permanent direct hires administering $13.2 billion in assistance. Just one graphic example of doing more with less (one jaded employee said that if we continue doing more with less, there’ll come a time when we’ll be able to do everything perfectly with nothing).

Second, this does not talk about “directed assignment” but it talks about filling critical vacancies and increasing “the capacity of the Department of State to assign and deploy Foreign Service officers and other personnel.” It also talks about worldwide availability as in “each member of the Service shall be available to be assigned worldwide.” Makes you wonder why this is in the bill unless this is a soft nudge to use the directed assignment authority. Worldwide availability has been in the books for a long time but – it has been exercised only to a limited degree. In 2007, the Government Accountability Office has recommended that the State Department use this authority: “State has not traditionally assigned its limited number of employees to particular posts based on risk and priorities; rather, it has generally assigned staff to posts for which they have expressed an interest. We recommended that State consider using its authority to direct staff to accept assignments, as necessary, to ensure that critical gaps are filled.”

Third, it talks about Recruiting Candidates Who Have Experience in Unstable Situations saying that “experience of working in situations where public order has been undermined by instability, or where there is no civil authority that can effectively provide public safety, may be considered an affirmative factor in making such appointments.” Right now, veterans are the only group subject to a hiring preference, but only post-FSWE and after the oral exam. According to career.state.gov “Veterans who pass the Oral Assessment and qualify as preference eligibles are entitled to .175 for a 5 point preference or to .35 for a 10 point preference, based on a seven point scale. Specialist candidates, who are assessed on a 100 point scale, and who pass their oral assessment are entitled to an additional 5 to 10 points added to their competitive rating. Candidates must submit form DD-214 to document creditable military service.” I don’t know what shape this “affirmative factor” would take on eventually. But two large groups of prospective applicants would probably fall under this category of “experience in unstable situations” – military personnel and 3161 employees.

Finally, the last part of this section addresses training in the FS – in one part providing that FS personnel (except FSNs and consular agents) “receive training on methods for conflict mitigation and resolution and on the necessary skills to be able to function successfully where public order has been undermined by instability.” And the second part providing that the SoS, “ensure that members of the Service (except FSNs and consular agents), have opportunities during their careers to obtain advanced education and training in academic and other relevant institutions in the United States and abroad.”

Like I said in my previous post on that new cone – this does not talk about reforming the promotion process in the Foreign Service. And that will have an impact if this bill passes. Employees who feel that their careers may be negatively impacted by taking a year or two out for advanced schooling may think twice about pursuing advanced education and academic training.

It is a different story in the armed services, of course. Have you noticed how many of our military officers retire from the armed services with PhDs? It has been said that almost every officer in the US military gains a graduate degree by the time they reach the rank of O-5, around 15-20 years of service. I don’t know if it is still true, but there was time when you can’t get promoted to a major without a master’s degree. In fact, General David Petraeus did receive his MPA in 1985 the year he made major. Two years later, he received his PhD in international relations from Princeton University and made LTC in 1991. His published works span from 1983-2008.

Military officers can pursue full-time studies toward a master’s or doctorate degree through programs paid for by the military. Many more officers pursue advanced education on their own time. The US Army for instance has the Advanced Degree Program and the Fully Funded Legal Education Program (FLEP) just to name two.

The military also spends a significant amount of time considering not only its future challenges 25-30 years from now, but also the education requirement of its future leaders:

This is the fundamental challenge the U.S. military will confront: providing the education so that future leaders can understand the political, strategic, historical, and cultural framework of a more complex world, as well as having a thorough grounding in the nature of war, past, present, and future. [...] The complexity of the future suggests that the education of senior officers must not remain limited to staff and war colleges, but should extend to the world’s best graduate schools. Professional military education must impart the ability to think critically and creatively in both the conduct of military operations and acquisition and resource allocation. The services should draw from a breadth and depth of education in a range of relevant disciplines to include history, anthropology, economics, geopolitics, cultural studies, the ‘hard’ sciences, law, and strategic communications. Their best officers should attend such programs. Officers cannot master all these disciplines, but they can and must become familiar with their implications. In other words, the educational development of America’s future military leaders must not remain confined to the school house, but must involve self study and intellectual engagement by officers throughout their careers. Read more here.

As for State -- I cannot immediately name a single program in the State Department except those advanced degrees pursued by Foreign Service officers in the war colleges and a few degrees on Social Work by employees in the Consular Bureau. Can you? How many diplomats do you know have taken sabbaticals to pursue advanced degrees in various institutions of higher learning after they’ve joined the Service? Ryan Crocker spent a year in Princeton pursuing course work in Near Eastern studies in 1984. But how many officers came in with a B.A and retired with a B.A.? In the military, it's kind of hard to find a single general without an advanced degree under his/her belt (there probably isn’t even one).

If you drill beyond the surface, you may recognize this as true -- whereas the pursuit of advanced education and continuous learning has been woven deeply into the fabric of military culture, the threads are not fully present in the State Department. That’s one change that needs to occur if the State Department expects to provide foreign policy and rigorous intellectual leadership into the next century. And if that happens, I'd be happy to call it "more modern."

Related Item: GAO-07-1154T: State Department: Staffing and Foreign Language Shortfalls Persist Despite Initiatives to Address Gaps

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2 comments:

NoDoubleStandards said...

I have really enjoyed your insightful breakdowns of H.R. 2410. Great stuff. Thanks for taking the time.

hal said...

"If you drill beyond the surface, you may recognize this as true -- whereas the pursuit of advanced education and continuous learning has been woven deeply into the fabric of military culture, the threads are not fully present in the State Department."

As an aspiring FSO (I took the FSOT on June 9th), I'm somewhat surprised by this. With both GWU and Georgetown so close to Main State, from afar one would think there would be a strong relationship between all three institutions.

I fully agree on the point about the cultural value of graduate degrees in the military. My first memory of an account of that is James Fallows' National Defense from 1982.